Kat and I attended Alan Korwin's Bill of Rights celebration, celebrating the 217th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, which was held this evening at the Wrigley Mansion. There were several hundred people in attendance, mostly civil libertarians of both liberal and libertarian varieties, including people from the Institute for Justice and the ACLU. We were asked in the invitation to think about which Amendment is our favorite--I would probably rank the 1st and 4th at the top of my list, of which the 1st is much healthier than the 4th. I'd also put the 8th and 5th high in importance, both of which have taken some recent hits but are showing signs of recovery. And of course the 6th, and the under-utilized 9th... ah, heck, they're all important. The crowd seemed dominated by 2nd Amendment fans, not surprising since Alan Korwin is the author and publisher of numerous books on U.S. gun laws.
The reading of the Bill of Rights and its preamble was excellent, but I was disappointed that the event included a Patrick Henry impersonator played by Lance Hurley of Founding Fathers Ministries. Hurley is a Christian who endorses David Barton's works of pseudohistory on his website (for which the antidote is Chris Rodda's Liars for Jesus), and at the event argued in character, with quotations from Henry, that the 2nd Amendment came from the teachings of Jesus Christ, that the American revolution was fought on Christian principles, and the Constitutional Convention succeeded because of Ben Franklin's prayer. He also stated, when there were discussions of the health of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, that freedom of religion is in serious danger, because no one can mention God in schools but the Koran can be discussed. This is simply untrue--God and the Bible can be discussed by students, but such discussions cannot constitutionally be imposed by state agents such as teachers and administrators in a way that constitutes an establishment of religion. The Bible can be legally taught as the combination of myth, history, poetry, literature, and religious doctrine that it is, but Christianity cannot be endorsed as true by state agents. The same rules apply to the Koran. Hurley seems not to realize that Madison's version of the First Amendment won out, not Henry's. Some Christians--and it appears that Hurley may be one of them--have a view that their freedom of religion is infringed if they are prevented from legally imposing their religion on others through acts of state agents.
I'll find it amazing that Christians consider themselves to be a poor, persecuted minority prohibited from expressing their religious views when they are, in fact, regularly engaging in establishment clause violations, and Congressmen are signing on to bills like last year's House Resolution 847.
Hurley does public speaking as both Patrick Henry and George Washington--I wonder if his George Washington is historically accurate with respect to Washington's religious views. He's also an advocate of conspiracy theories (Illuminati, Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergers, etc.) and an advocate of the National Day of Prayer.
Further fringe elements were represented at the event by Ernie Hancock of the Ron Paul Revolution, who distributed multiple pieces of literature promoting his Freedom's Phoenix website, billed as "uncovering the secrets & exposing the lies." That site also promotes conspiracy theory, including "9/11 truth" conspiracy claims.
In the discussions, several people brought up Phoenix's recently installed freeway traffic speed cameras as evidence of the sickliness of the Bill of Rights, though no one really offered an explanation of how the Bill of Rights is violated by them. And the objection seemed to only be to the cameras, not to speed limit laws. I'm not a fan of speed cameras, and I agree that they are more of a revenue generation method than a safety measure, but I don't see an obvious case that they violate the Bill of Rights.
That's not to say that the event was entirely dominated by the lunatic fringe--one woman in the audience commented that she was particularly concerned about the 4th Amendment, because she is now regularly stopped at a "border checkpoint" while driving between destinations well inside the U.S. border, because of the 100-mile "Constitution-free zone" that the courts have created around the perimeter of the U.S. And Jennifer Perkins of the Institute for Justice pointed out that even though the U.S. Supreme Court blew a gigantic hole in the 5th Amendment with the Kelo case, nearly all of the states have passed legislation adding further protections against eminent domain abuse (and Arizona's are the strongest).
There was one critical mention of the USA PATRIOT Act (by the Patrick Henry impersonator, to well-deserved applause), but no mention of Guantanamo Bay, the Military Commissions Act, or torture that I noticed. I think concern over traffic cameras is at least a bit lower on the priority list than any of these items. A point in favor of the Patrick Henry arguments is that he correctly identified the risk of expanding executive power and judicial decisions that disregarded basic rights (the fact that the Bill of Rights, as well as the Constitution itself, has many passages that have effectively been written out of it, is testament to the accuracy of that prediction).
The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, at least, is alive and relatively well.
UPDATE (December 16, 2008): Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars points out that Ron Paul introduced the American Freedom Agenda Act which would:
Repeal the "Military Commissions Act of 2006" and thereby restore the ancient right of habeas corpus and end legally sanctioned torture by U.S. government agentsEd suggests, and I agree, that writing or calling your elected representatives and asking them to support this bill is a good way to do something to preserve and protect the Bill of Rights.
Restore the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" (FISA) and thereby outlaw warrantless spying on American citizens by the President of the United States
Give Congress standing in court to challenge the President's use of "signing statements" as a means to avoid executing the nation's laws
Make it illegal for government agents to kidnap people and send them abroad to be tortured by foreign governments
Provide legal protection to journalists who expose wrong-doing by the Federal government
Prohibit the use of secret evidence to label groups or individuals as terrorists for the purpose of criminal or civil sanctions