In plain words, as guaranteed by the Constitution in the Bill of Rights:
- Congress cannot restrict your religion or how you practice it, what you choose to say, your ability to meet with others, nor can they prohibit you from asking the Government to change their ways if you don’t like what they are doing or have done;
- You can have firearms and you can carry them with you;
- The government cannot house troops in your home unless you agree;
- Lacking a warrant or probable cause, you, your house, papers and other effects can be kept as private as you wish;
- Without an indictment from a Grand Jury, you are presumed innocent, cannot be tried a second time for one crime, nor required give testimony against yourself, nor be imprisoned without due process, nor have your property be taken without just compensation;
- You are entitled to a speedy and public trial by a jury in the district where the alleged crime took place, and you must be informed of the accusations, confronted by witnesses against you, and have the right to demand (and get) witnesses in your favor as well as the help of an attorney;
- For common law (not criminal) suits where the sum at issue exceeds twenty bucks, you may have a trial by jury that cannot be overruled by the court other than according to the rules of common law;
- No excessive bail, fines nor cruel and unusual punishments are allowed;
- This list of rights is incomplete — you have other rights not herein stated [that’s why the title of this essay includes the words “more than”]; and
- Powers not specifically delegated to the federal government nor prohibited by the States, are delegated to the States or, if the States do not enumerate or restrict them, to you.
The Bill of Rights is the work of intelligent, experienced and thoughtful individuals who worked, compromised and agonized over each word and phrase to best convey their intentions.
But words change with time. It is vital, therefore, to understand the context of history in which these were written. That influence permeates, indeed motivates, each such document and, by understanding the times in which they were written, we can gain an understanding that surpasses the written word.
I therefore highly recommend the John Adams miniseries on DVD, BlueRay or “instant” video. And I also give a very high recommendation to the book, “Miracle at Philadelphia” by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Both are excellent entertainment as well as historically rich.