Happy Bill of Rights Day: Celebrate It While You Still Can

Listen to Sue Udry Here:

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December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were ratified. In 1941, 150 years later, December 15th was declared Bill of Rights Day by President Franklin Roosevelt. This year’s celebration may be muted in light of yesterday’s 283 to 136 vote in the House to approve the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Today, the Senate is expected to follow suit. Initially, President Obama said he would veto the bill, but yesterday he backed down from that pledge.

“The most pressing concern [regarding the NDAA] is a provision that allows for the president to authorize the indefinite detention of anyone that he calls a terrorist without trial, and actually even without charge,” Sue Udry, executive director of Defending Dissent Foundation, told TheFightBack yesterday after a press conference at the National Press Club. “The president just has to assert that the person is a suspected terrorist without naming those specific crimes.” 

The Fifth Amendment states that no one shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Sixth Amendment states that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury… [and] be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Asked how the NDAA squares with the Fifth, Sixth, as well the First Amendment, Udry said, “It doesn’t. It doesn’t at all.”

“Imagine allowing the government to deny people accused of involvement with terrorism (undefined), including U.S. citizens arrested within the United States, the right to trial by jury,” lawyer and consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote in a column yesterday entitled “Congressional Tyranny, White House Surrender.” “Imagine allowing indefinite imprisonment for those accused without even proffering charges against them. Goodbye 5th and 6th Amendments,” wrote Nader.

“I think a lot of people interpret detention provisions like this as being aimed at terrorists,” Udry said. “They say to themselves, ‘I’m not a terrorist. It doesn’t affect me and maybe it will make me safer.’ [But they do so] without realizing that the definition of a terrorist has expanded so broadly to even include activists; and that when you deny rights to some, it’s only a matter of time before rights are denied to all.”

This Bill of Rights Day, activists are gathering in more than a dozen cities across the country to protest the NDAA, continuing the struggle for basic rights. “It’s been a tough 220 years,” said Udry.

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