September 2, 2014

Remember George Mason on Bill of Rights Day

Doug Anstaett
Kansas Press Assoc.
Guest Columnist
There’s a commercial right now that shows a huge cloud of dust and says, “We’re willing to bet no kid ever grew up with a poster of a Passat on his bedroom wall.” It’s an advertisement for a Dodge Charger, a muscle car.
Likewise, few of us grew up with a poster of Virginian George Mason gracing our wall, either.
For sure, Mason was no Miley Cyrus, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Prince, John Lennon or Elvis Presley, some of the top celebrities of the past 50 years.
But what he did for his fellow Americans more than two centuries ago blows away what any “Hollywood idol” has ever accomplished.
Do you like to speak out about your government?
Do you appreciate a free press that can ferret out fraud, abuse, malfeasance and corruption?
Do you freely exercise your right to worship God, or not to worship at all?
Do you relish the fact that you cannot be jailed without cause, that cruel and unusual punishment is banned and that unreasonable searches and seizures are condemned?
Are you happy that your right to bear arms protects you and your neighbors from criminal elements and from a tyrannical government?
If so, then you owe a debt of gratitude to George Mason. For it was this stubborn defender of the individual rights of his fellow citizens who almost singlehandedly guaranteed that our newly minted but flawed Constitution would be amended to include a list of those rights.
We call those first 10 amendments the Bill of Rights, and that is just what they are. These statements indicate our government must be subordinate to our individual rights to freedom, liberty and justice.
Dec. 15 is the 222th anniversary of the day the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Mason never liked politics, but after penning the Virginia Declaration of Rights that was adopted along with the Virginia Constitution, he participated in the Constitutional Convention. Disgusted, however, he refused to sign the new national constitution because it lacked a specific listing of individual freedoms. He went home from the convention disillusioned and as an outspoken opponent of ratification.
Fortunately for us, his stubbornness paid off. Within two years, the Bill of Rights was adopted and we continue today to enjoy the individual freedoms spelled out for every citizen in those first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
Today, we might wonder about the state of our rights. With the revelations about spying by the National Security Agency, drones taking pictures of our every move and little of our private lives seemingly “private” any more, we may wonder if the Bill of Rights really matters today.
It most certainly does. For it is the Bill of Rights that allows us to call into question every move our government makes. It allows us to stand on the street corner or march on Topeka or Washington demanding more accountability from government. It allows us to say “enough is enough” when our rights are in jeopardy.
When government goes too far, we can petition for a “redress of grievances,” something few nations across the world allow.
Rest assured, George Mason’s stubborn determination helped guarantee those rights to every American, then and today.
No, his poster isn’t on our walls and likely never will be, but every time we exercise our individual rights, we create of “living poster” of George Mason.
 Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association.

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