Op-Ed

Bill of Rights is nation's bedrock

Guess what? You just missed celebrating Bill of Rights Day!

Two hundred twenty years and two days ago, on Dec. 15, 1791, history was changed forever when Virginia became the 10th state to ratify the Bill of Rights, thus making it part of the Constitution. Thus was preserved the fledgling new country called the United States of America, after the Articles of Confederation had failed.

Most Americans don't realize that without ratification of the Bill of Rights, the deal between the states on the new Constitution would have fallen apart, and with it quite possibly the United States itself.

Now, 220 years later, the Bill of Rights remains the heart and soul of who we are as a people, and it is why America remains an inspiration to those seeking liberty everywhere. Its ingenious balance of personal freedoms and political principles has proven both dynamic and durable, becoming one of history's most important and influential documents as the global road map for human rights.

It's a remarkable story, all the more so when you consider that, as a high school history teacher from Nogales, Ariz., pointed out to me, the provisions of the Bill of Rights only applied to roughly five percent of the human beings living within the United States when it was ratified. They didn't apply to slaves. They didn't apply to Native Americans. They didn't apply in large part to women, and only in full to white males of a certain amount of property and position.

And yet there is no exclusionary language within the Bill of Rights. So as our concept of individual liberty evolved through the experience of it, as well as through the wrenching tragedy of civil war, we had the blueprint already in hand to build on, so that today it is universally accepted that these freedoms and principles apply to everyone.

Accepted, that is, by those with any clear knowledge of them. The sad fact is that at this key crossroads in the life of our nation, the Bill of Rights is barely taught in our schools and is nowhere to be found in our public squares. Worse, it is so uncelebrated in our public discourse that on December 15, while flipping through the morning news shows, I heard the following on no fewer than three networks: "It's December 15, and you know what that means ... It's National Cupcake Day!"

America is the first nation in history founded around a set of ideas and principles, rather than a single race or culture. Our greatest achievements can be traced to when we've fought to live up to these ideals, and our greatest failures to when we've abandoned them.

I hope you'll join with MyBillofRights.org in supporting the enduring genius of our Bill of Rights. Great ideas make a great nation. Looking down the difficult road ahead, it might be a good time to revisit those who made America the light of the world.

So, put it on your calendar for 2012. And maybe bake some red, white and blue cupcakes.

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