Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.
Getty Square, Yonkers, N.Y. in the 1960s
Philadelphia Convention of 1787
For some 200 years Americans have rejoiced in a U.S. Constitution frequently described as a model for the rest of the world.
We have boasted of a Bill of Rights that has helped make this country the "land of the free and the home of the brave." We relish the document that insures life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for each of us.
Americans can, and often do, cite their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. We feel secure in the virtue of rights granted to us as well, under the other nine amendments, including those that guarantee us a speedy trial, trial by jury, the right to keep and bear arms and of due process of law.
Bill of Rights Treasured
And we treasure the Bill of Rights' enumerated protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, double jeopardy, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment.
So why is it that so many of us feel that the rights and responsibilities we inherited from our forefathers may be, despite our reverence for the U.S. Constitution, in serious jeopardy?
It is often said that the Bill of Rights, if put to a vote in the United States today, would be rejected by the American electorate.
Could it be so?
Sorrowfully, the answer is: probably.
Why? If we have held these rights to be dear to us for so many decades, why would we risk losing them now?
For many of us, we'd rather lose our right arm; but for some who may feel overcome by the problems of the 20th Century -- such as drug addiction and rampant street crime, white collar crime, malfeasance in office, racism -- it might seem easier to give way to surer, more efficient ways to correct these problems and worry about protecting our rights later.
Americans have a reputation for impatience. We want things done now, not later. We hate to wait for anything.
Many of us have no time to read a good book, preferring to pick up the gist of it in such publications as the Reader's Digest. We often prefer to get our information from television sound bites rather than reading the details in our daily newspaper. We don't have time to cook a good dinner, often settling for some rolled turkey, instant potatoes, instant coffee -- or, perhaps, a TV dinner. But, when it comes to our Constitutional rights -- won for us by a handful of wise and brave men who framed the document -- we might be wise to summon all the patience we can muster rather than endanger any one of those rights.
Some of us are optimistic that Americans, upon closer examination, will take the necessary care to maintain our Constitutional rights. despite some worrisome recent examples of impatience.
Confident of Our Country's Future
Personally, I try to be confident of our country's future, and there have been many recent incidents that tend to reinforce that confidence, but:
* * * I worry when I see laws proposed that are designed to circumvent the Constitution by making it illegal for drug dealers to loiter in certain areas. We must always be diligent not to trade long-term basic individual rights for short term quick fixes that more often than not prove unworkable.
* * * I worry when judges sentence convicted criminals to some off-the-wall punishment in the name of justice. When a convicted rapist is given the alternative of going to prison for some period of years or undergoing castration, society may be going beyond the bounds of propriety.
* * * I worry when a judge imposes unreasonable fines -- such as one imposed on the city of Yonkers, N.Y., in a housing case in which a $1 million fine was to double each day until the city knuckled under to the judge's demands. This kind of unreasonable abuse of power only serves to aggravate an already difficult situation.
* * * I worry when judges impose unreasonably high bond on those accused of a crime, ignoring, or at least evading, the Constitution's caveat against excessive bail.
* * * I worry when police, with court approval, indiscriminately stop traffic to make arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While the motive may be commendable, the action smacks of the philosophy of "the end justifies the means" and an abuse of power as well as abuse of the Constitutional right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.
* * * I wouldn't worry so much if, under our system of justice, judges were limited to penalties specified by statute, and discretion, if given, were spelled out in the legislation.
When we consider proposals for new and unique laws that sponsors ballyhoo as the panacea everyone's looking for, we should stay alert to its Constitutional implications.
Once lost, a Constitutional right will be difficult, if not impossible, to regain.
I penned this column for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on July 3, 1992.
Desegregation Debate in Yonkers, N.Y.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich: The U.S. Constitution 'Don't Leave Home Without It.'
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 16, 2011:
The U.S. Supreme Court unquestionably has become more political than ever, email@example.com -- but it's not because of interpreting the document as "a living document." It's because too many judges allow their decisions to be influenced by their personal, social and political views. While it is natural, I suppose, for judges to interpret the Constitution from their personal perspectives -- and there are plenty of examples of this in history -- this abuse of power definitely has been more apparent than in the past. One major example is the present court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in which corporations are deemed to be "persons" who have "free speech" and are thus granted the right to make unaccountable contributions designed to influence our country's elections. This kind of travesty can only be prevented by the appointment and confirmation of justices who do not have an activist agenda.
firstname.lastname@example.org from upstate, NY on January 16, 2011:
I fear the Supreme Court has usurped the legislative function of Congress through interpreting the Constitution as a living document. Judges get to decide how and when our morals and culture have evolved or changed. In my view this gives judges not the Constitution the final authority on the law. This is in my view is a serious threat to the separation of power in the government.
sligobay from east of the equator on September 05, 2010:
I've been reading the Federalist Papers and their contrarian views by the anti-federalists. The Bill of Rights was incorporated in order to gain ratification of the Constitution during the Convention of 1789. The Articles of Confederation were inadequate to unify the States. I agree with the premise that our rights are being eroded. Cheers.
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on May 22, 2010:
Thank you, TinaMarieTad. We all must be diligent in preserving the rights we have -- both inherently as humans and those inscribed in the U.S. Constitution. Once lost, Constitutional rights are nearly impossible to retrieve. But I don't fear "big" government, I fear "bad" government. In today's world, I fear the power of big corporations even more than government power.
TinaMarieTad from Michigan on May 22, 2010:
Excellent Hub William! I too feel our liberties and freedoms slipping away, and our Constitutional rights being infringed upon as well as blatant disregard for the Constitution period. Bigger Government means less freedoms!
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 27, 2010:
Thanks, compu-smart. Now we have to worry about the present activist Supreme Court making decisions based on politics. The latest 5-4 decision giving corporations power to influence elections with unlimited spending will do serious harm to our democratic processes. It's not a question of freedom of speech, as the court says, because corporations are not "persons."
Tony Sky from London UK on January 27, 2010:
Like you I am also worried about so many issues. When we they live AND learn!
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 24, 2010:
I agree, dahoglund, that too few of us have any familiarity with the U.S. Constitution. I hope many will take the time to go back and read it again. The video that appears on this site about the Constitution is timely once again in view of the high courts' outrageous decision allowing corporations unlimited spending for the purpose of influencing elections under the false contention that corporations are "persons." Thanks for commenting.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on January 24, 2010:
Consider that so many people do not know the constitution. Even though I had some familiarity with it I found I had to go back and remind myself of what it says. many have never read it.
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on August 03, 2009:
Patrick Henry was a brave and wise man. It takes good leaders to keep us on the right track. We've been derailed over the past several decades, but let's hope that our current leaders will right the ship.
Army Infantry Mom on August 03, 2009:
Excellent, Excellent hub !!! I hate how they have added on new stuff that threatens my freedom to speak, think and decide for myself. I also hate the fact that votes don't count because there is an ultimate plan and it is pre-decided who will win. I would like to ask the government,..
Do you remember what the purpose of the Constitutuion is ?
Have they forgot,...
"The constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instument for the people to restrain the government"
~ Patrick Henry - American Revolutionary Soldier
sandra rinck on May 06, 2008:
I get insanely irritated when we allow foreigners to live here with us because it is the "land of the free", and then they turn their backs to the pricipals that made up the Nation as if they are somehow being treated unfairly. I just ask, why?
I worry that I may not have the right to eat, or walk outside or defend myself againts people who intend to do me harm. I worry that someone else will determine what is right for me, without my say.
I worry about what is in the foods that I feed my kid. I worry about her getting hurt, I worry about getting sick and I worry about being able to keep a roof over our heads and I worry that one day I may not have a place to feel safe.
Maybe I am over reacting sometimes, but I feel and I see it change and I feel like I am being forced into a way of life that I don't like, so I either have to stand up and have a pissy fit and do something, or I have no right to bitch later.
You left me a comment when I first joined hubpages, you said, move forward. I didn't understand then what you meant, but the more I read, the more I see, the more I witness, the more I understand.
ColdWarBaby on May 06, 2008:
History! Exactly. Repeatedly! Why don't we learn? Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on May 06, 2008:
It's not easy, ColdWarBaby, but I try very hard to maintain an optimistic view. Those who oppress others always have the upper hand in the short term, but history shows that, in the long run, they fail to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, millions of us suffer in the meantime. I appreciate your comments.
ColdWarBaby on May 06, 2008:
"the problems of the 20th Century -- such as drug addiction and rampant street crime, white collar crime, malfeasance in office, racism --"
All products of the system of free market capitalism and those who wish to rule the world through oppression and military might.
Your observations are astute and accurate.
I, believe it or not, am certain that the human spirit is ultimately one of light. Has nothing to do with god or religion. It’s simply a good survival trait. Those who rule are creatures of hate and violence. These things are not beneficial to the well being of life. Life, however, will prevail. It just might not be human life.
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on December 08, 2007:
Good hub and comments.
William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on December 08, 2007:
In my view Congress cannot and did not give up its power to declare war. Our Constitution cannot be changed by any act of Congress. There is a procedure for that. The Bush Administration's efforts to bypass Congress on the war issue, and on many issues, can, and should be, challenged. Unfortunately, only a handful of congressmen is willing to speak out against such tyranny. Even the Democratic candidates for president, with one exception, lack the courage to do so.
Peter Cohen on December 08, 2007:
The Bush-Maliki “Agreement”
Peter G Cohen Santa Barbara, Dec. 7, ‘07
The people and their representatives in Congress must not accept the idea that any individual can negotiate for our nation without following the process laid down in the Constitution. Making an agreement to commit fighting forces, which have volunteered to serve in defense of our country and who might be called upon to sacrifice themselves for another nation, without the approval of their representatives in Congress, is dictatorial.
During the Bush administration the Congress has already given up the right to declare war and has approved laws and policies that infringe upon the basic freedoms guaranteed in The Bill of Rights -- for which generations of Americans have fought. Fear is no excuse for the failure of Congress people to be faithful to their oath of office, which requires that they “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Now we are faced with a situation that can further erode the Constitution. George W. Bush has reached an agreement with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki, to keep American troops in Iraq for years. If the Congress does not promptly act to inform the Iraqi Government that this agreement is null and void, it will be an accomplice in the further destruction of the Constitution.
It makes no difference that this “agreement” is called by that generic term rather than the more correct term of treaty. When one obligates the armed forces of one country to participate in the defense of another that is a treaty. Constitutionally, it cannot go into effect without the consent of two thirds of the United States Senate.
If the government of Iraq is unable to maintain its own security, it is free to request peace-keeping forces from the United Nations. The fact that this administration has built permanent bases in Iraq and wishes to maintain them in order to dominate the Middle East, does not obligate our nation to continue to invest our troops and resources in that project without the consent of the people and their representatives.
Peter G Cohen, artist and activist, is the author of nuke-freeworld.com He can be reached at email@example.com