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Your Constitutional Rights (May Be Violated)

When people talk about “constitutional rights”, what they’re generally referring to is the Bill of Rights, the collection of the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution that limit the power of the government and protect the legal rights of all United States citizens.

The Bill of Rights includes many of the popular phrases we have come to associate with the rights of American citizens and other democratic societies, including freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the right to bear arms.

The Bill of Rights also contains other rights that do not have the catchy titles of these five, including the freedom to petition, right to a trial by jury, the rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment, and forced self-incrimination.

The First Amendment in particular, also called the Establishment Clause, contains many of the freedoms that have been the cornerstone for the American way of life since the country’s inception:

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.

Where Have Our Constitutional Rights Gone?

That citizens have to continually fight for the rights granted by the Bill of Rights is not a new phenomenon; throughout history, our country has struggled to live up to the all-inclusive language contained in the Constitution and its amendments regarding what freedoms Americans possess and, perhaps more importantly, who has these freedoms.

One important example is the period of time in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement, which sought to establish equal rights and opportunities for African-Americans and other ethnic minorities. The outcome of the series of protests, marches and other unrest over civil rights was the Civil Rights Act of 1968, signed into legislation by Lyndon B. Johnson, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing.

However, the fight to protect civil rights for all U.S. citizens continues to this day, as many recent news stories involve lawsuits, arrests or procedures that seem to fly in the face of the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights.

We have compiled a list of recent news events that all seem to raise the question, “Where have our constitutional rights gone?”

May 28, 2008

Accountant with Alleged Ties to Mob Fights FBI Use of GPS Tracking Device on Car

An accountant whom the FBI alleges is involved in the mob and has conspired in racketeering in the Connecticut trash industry has moved to have evidence collected by the FBI suppressed because he and his lawyer allege that his constitutional rights were violated by a GPS device that agents were using to track his whereabouts. Christopher Raynor found the GPS tracking device partially melted in the undercarriage of his car. Though GPS has been used in legal cases before, no decision has been handed down over whether their usage requires court authorization. A statement prepared by Raynor’s criminal defense attorney claimed that the FBI tactics “amounted to an intrusive, unreasonable and six-month-long search undertaken without court authorization,” which would violate Raynor’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Texas Adult Entertainment Tax Ruled Unconstitutional  -Texas Tries to Collect Anyway

It is always interesting when lawmakers and officials choose to ignore the U.S. Constitution and pass and enforce laws that are in clear violation of federal law, but even more so when the new laws are a clear strike out against businesses which seem to be unpopular with legislators.

Such is the case in Texas, the Texas Entertainment Association (TEA) has reported. The Texas Comptroller has sent notifications to adult cabarets in the state indicating that the industry-wide $5 admittance taxes are due. The admittance taxes are controversial to begin with, but have also been deemed unconstitutional by a Texas court.

The 53rd District Court ruled on March 28 that the admittance taxes were in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and ordered that they not be collected. The Texas Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling on April 7 and notified the adult cabaret businesses that according to the Comptroller’s Office, the appeal suspends the ruling of the court and the injunction from assessing and collecting the tax.

Because of the admittance taxes, some club owners in Texas say that they may be forced to close the adult cabarets and lay off workers.

Supreme Court Dismisses Unlawful Search and Seizure Case in San Diego

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in California against San Diego County for its welfare eligibility program, Project 100%, which it claims violates the 4th Amendment to the Constitution with unscheduled home searches to verify welfare information. However, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Firefighters Take on Role in Anti-Terrorism – Is that Constitutional?

Numerous news sources have published an Associated Press report that firefighters in New York City have received training from the Department of Homeland Security in anti-terrorism detection. The partnership was made because firefighters and medical personnel, unlike law enforcement officials, don’t have to have warrants to enter homes. Other departments in major U.S. cities have also been part of this effort, including Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Atlanta. However, many are concerned that this is another example of the Bush Administration violating privacy rights in the name of defense.

Bush’s Wiretapping Bill Violates 4th Amendment, ACLU Says

In another ACLU push, the group is calling for reform of a wiretapping bill that could make permanent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that passed the Senate in August. That bill gives immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated by giving information on customer activity without the customers’ knowledge to government intelligence agencies. The proposed bill would make the provisions of the FISA permanent, which many see as a violation of 4th Amendment protections against surveillance without court warrant.

Check back for future updates on constitutional rights and the fight by concerned American citizens to protect them!

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