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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Chanukah & The Bill of Rights

Uploaded: Dec 16, 2014

Yesterday, Monday December 15th, was Bill of Rights Day. I didn't know there was a Bill of Rights Day until I saw it in my digital planner. To find out more about it, I looked it up on Google. The search listed an Editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Bill of Rights which most of us know is the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. It was officially put into effect on December 15, 1791. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named December 15th as Bill of Rights Day in 1941.

There are ambiguities in the wording of the Bill of Rights, which leads to disputes over exactly what these rights are. If you look up any new law nowadays, practically every word in it is defined in precise legalese. The Bill of Rights was dashed off by Thomas Jefferson without providing any definitions to explain what each Amendment really means.

For example the First Amendment, my favorite, describes two Rights, and two Rights do not make a Wrong, but misunderstanding them might. I keep a copy of the Bill of Rights handy at all times. Everyone should.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I interpret the First Amendment as mainly granting Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech, but reading it over again, it really lists four different things.

1. No state Religion ? Everyone can have their own or none.
2. I can say what I want and write what I want without being thrown into prison.
3. I can march or protest or kvetch with like minded citizens, in a peaceful way of course.
4. I can stand on the front steps of Congress with a petition to throw the bums out and not be dragged away (maybe).

A lot of people misinterpret the First Amendment as freedom to say anything about anyone and not suffer any consequences. Not true, of course. You can be sued, you can be fired, you can be ostracized by your friends, but you can't (or shouldn't) be put into prison for what you say unless it incites violence.

The other freedom in the First Amendment is freedom of religion, which also means freedom FROM religion. European countries fought wars over religious differences. If you were not in the mainstream religion, or didn't practice it as faithfully as authorities deemed correct, you could be tortured, or thrown into prison, or burned at the stake.

Many people immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution. This is why the United States has so much religious diversity. That is why I can celebrate Chanukah if I want to. Where are the candles? It's time to take the Menorah off the shelf.
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