Top 10 Things That You Think Are In the Constitution (But Aren’t)
For any true blue American who drinks Bald Eagle tears and pisses Freedom, the Constitution of the United States is one the most important pieces of paper in history. It is the foundation on which the country was built, thrived and became the superpower it is today. Therefore, it’d be logical to assume that the people of the US has, at the very least, actually READ the damned thing, right? Sadly, judging by the number of misconceptions people have about the Constitution, the answer seems to be a “No.” Did YOU know that the Constitution makes no mention of…
10. “(The) Pursuit of Happiness”
Immortalized at its most orthographically incorrect in the hit Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” the phrase is known by heart by almost every American: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Seven simple words which put into law our inherited right to live, be free and be happy. But wait. You and I are all the saddest sacks this side of the Suicidal Burlap factory and the government is not using stimulus money to send us to Bali and protect our rights to be happy. What gives?
What gives is that the phrase is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. It actually comes from the Declaration of Independence which—while still being a very important historical document—is about as legally binding as your 2nd grade writing assignment where you declared that you’ll be an astronaut when you grow up. The 5th Amendment does protect our rights to “life, liberty and property” but not happiness. Apparently you have to earn that stuff the old fashioned way: by marrying a dying billionaire.
There’s been a lot of debate whether the US is a Christian nation and what the legal consequences of that are. It’s a complicated issue with valid arguments at both sides of the debate but you have to admit that if the Constitution itself makes references to God or Jesus then religion (specifically Christianity) should have at least some part in our legislative process, right?
I dunno. Maybe? But the Constitution actually makes no mention of God. Not once. Zero. God in the Constitution is like the Loch Ness monster: crazy people will swear they totally saw it there but when you actually go to check it out all you end up with is a big fat pile of nothing. To be totally fair, there’s that ONE part in the Constitution that says: “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven” but if that’s a declaration of religious beliefs then Carl Sagan is a diehard theist for using the terms “BC” and “AD.”
8. No Taxation Without Representation
When Young America was rallying its future citizens to go and kick the British right in the crumpets with a pair of steel-tipped boots, the one phrase that could be heard everywhere was “No taxation without representation” – a protest of the unfair taxes imposed on the colonies by the British crown. Surely the battle cry of the revolution had to make its way into the Constitution of the ensuing country, right?
Of course not. It’s actually quite scary how many taxes are levied today in America without any representation. Most of those ARE taxes imposed on foreigners (both laborers and tourists) who have no representatives in the US government so it might not seem like such a big deal to you if you’re a regular citizen. But know that the Constitution, as it stands now, really doesn’t protect you from being taxed without representation somewhere down the line.
7. The Right to Vote
Voting. It’s one of the most basic things we ask of a developed nation: for its citizens to have an active part in the governing of their country. The US Constitution actually does mention voting a number of times, like how you cannot deny anyone the chance to vote based on gender, race etc. But nowhere in there is there a mention about the unequivocal RIGHT to vote.
Why does that matter? Because it means that states can pretty much deny the right to vote to anyone they want, as long as it’s not based on gender, race etc. You might have gathered as much if you knew that, say, convicts are not allowed to vote, as there’s nothing in the Constitution that would protect their rights to vote. If tomorrow the government of California decided that fat people cannot vote because, I don’t know, God told them to, it wouldn’t really be unconstitutional. And that, kids, is why details matter. Well, that and performing self-circumcision (don’t ask.)
6. Unrestricted Freedom of Speech
OK, this should be simple. Freedom of Speech. Love it or hate it, you’d have to be some Communist Nazi to hate it. And the fact that I can call you a Communist Nazi, hypothetical straw man whom I’ve just invented, is all thanks to Freedom of Speech, aka the First Amendment, which gives us the right to say whatever we want, when we want, purple cat banana pudding.
Oooor so you’d think. The First Amendment is actually pretty clear on that one: Congress will make no law to stop you from shouting “Poop penis!” at a nunnery and that’s great but it doesn’t say anything about laws NOT passed by Congress. Take a typical college campus. If tomorrow your college decided to ban the public uttering of verbs then that would be A-OK with the Constitution. The office you work at forbids you from using the letter E in conversations? Tough luck – perfectly legal. If that depresses you, take comfort in the fact that the above also mean that it’s illegal for some dumbass to yell “Fire!” in a crowded cinema. We just have to take the good with the bad.
5. Paper Money
When you get down to it, paper money really doesn’t make sense because it has no monetary value. Yet we all agree to sort of pretend that it does because the government promises that it won’t collapse overnight and we won’t be forced to hunt each other for sport and food. With such high stakes, the usage of paper money MUST BE carefully defined and controlled by the Constitution, mustn’t it? Well, it’s not.
You can try arguing that the Constitution doesn’t mention paper money for the same reason it doesn’t mention iPods: because back then all transactions were done in chickens and sexual favors. But of course printed money did exist back then, and it was a pretty hot topic. The original version of the Constitution did explicitly permit the government to print paper money but many of the dignitaries were so against the idea that the phrase had to be taken out of the document. In reality, the only reason we have paper money today is because of an 1871 Supreme Court decision, which frankly doesn’t sound like a reliable foundation for the biggest economy on the planet.
Lately all talks of marriage seem to be of the gay variety and its validity. No matter what your opinion on it might be, we can all agree that it’s an important social issue which needs to be resolved and what better place to start with than the Constitution? So what does the document say about marriage? Is it solely a union between a man and a woman?
But of course the Constitution makes no mention of marriage. Social conventions, which marriage is a part of, is not really something you worry about while founding the crap out of a country. The issues of what constitute marriage are thus left entirely to individual states because who’s better suited to decide what’s “normal” for a society than state-level legislature?
3. Innocence Until Proven Guilty
We arrive at yet another fundamental block of our democracy. Presumed innocence until you are found guilty in the eyes of the law, judged by the jury of your peers, as the Constitution clearly says. It’s a truly beautiful thing when you think about it; a beacon of enlightenment which probably blinded the other nations with its wisdom and human decency when it was first introduced in the U.S. Constitution!
But was it really? Nah. The concept is actually more British than tea and rampaging wealth disparity because that’s where it originated: In British law. The Constitution makes no mention of it because by the time the document was drafted the Presumed Innocence bit was so common throughout the Western world that it actually did become common law, so it was in no need of codification. Which, if you’re been following this closely, cannot stop anyone, especially the government, from crapping all over the idea like a flock of pigeons with digestive-tract infections, if they wanted to.
2. Jury of Your Peers
Hey, speaking of court proceedings. Let’s say you’ve been arrested but the System is framing you, man! You have absolutely no idea how that half a bag of weed got into your apartment but whoever planted it there also cleaned out your fridge and really smoked up the place. You’ll fight the charge, dammit! You’ll plead your case to a Jury of your peers—as the Constitution guarantees you—and win! Ha!
Well, the Constitution does make mention of juries in a couple of places guaranteeing that you get one and that they are impartial. But the “peers” part? That ain’t there and never was, and for good reason, because how do you even define a “peer”? What criteria are to be used? And how can I even have peers if I’m the most awesome, handsomest person in the universe? It’s an ontological nightmare, and is therefore not mentioned in the Constitution. It’s also why rape trial juries aren’t stocked with other rapists.
1. Separation of State and Church
Great, so the US Constitution is actually full of legal crap and not red-blooded American freedom and God. Next we’ll probably find out that besides specifically guaranteeing separation of state and church (as everyone knows) it also makes it mandatory for every 12 year old to burn down at least one church, right? Damn, you can be so dramatic, overly-dramatic straw man! Also wrong, because there’s no separation of state and church mentioned anywhere in the entire Constitution.
The phrase actually comes from a Thomas Jefferson letter where he was commenting on the 1st Amendment but you might be surprise to learn that personal correspondence has no legislative power. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion but that doesn’t mean that a government, be it federal or state, has to separate itself from religion. And you probably already knew that, only didn’t want to admit it. From Creationist textbooks to Gov. Rick Parry (not a typo) calling in a prayer meeting, state and church are really more in a controlled separation spiced up with occasional one night stands rather than a full-on divorce. All those two love birds need to get back together is a pair of rascally twins and a good helping of shenanigans!
By Rick Raule