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BILL OF RIGHTS: A HISTORY IN DOCUMENTS
Dec. 1, 2003, n.p.

Copyright © 2003 Oxford University Press.

Chapter Nine: Consensus and Controversy
ACLU Poster for Constitutional RightsTheAmerican Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) promotes education of the public about constitutional rights through posters such as "The ACLU Illustrated Guide to the Bill of Rights." (Library of Congress, LC-Pos.6-U.S., no. 1391 (C Size)) |
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By John J. Patrick

     From 1989 to 1991, Americans celebrated the bicentennial of their Bill of Rights, whose protection of fundamental rights finally appliedto all Americans in every part of the nation. Americans have generally agreed on the value of minimal national standards for rights, but these standards have evolved as a consequence of Supreme Courtdecisions, congressional enactments, Presidential policies, political activities of citizens' organizations and civil rights movements, and public opinion.

     Consensus on nationwide applicationof most provisions of the Bill of Rights has often been accompanied by fierce controversy, usually peaceful, about the meaning of particular rights in certain circumstances. By the later years of the20th century, for example, nearly all Americans agreed that the 1st Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition are fundamentally important and should be protected againstabridgment by the federal or state governments. Since the 1970s, however, Americans have argued vigorously about how extensive the latitude or limitations of these freedoms should be. During theVietnam War, there was ongoing debate about the government's need to limit constitutional rights in order to maintain national security. This controversy peaked in 1971, when the federal governmentrestricted the publication of military documents in privately owned newspapers.

     Since the Sedition Act controversy of 1798, citizens have argued about whether the government has the authority to...
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