Five Big Myths About the US Constitution

Posted on February 13, 2013
Views: 4,710

Subscribe to our newsletter


It’s one of the most important documents in our history and played a key role in its foundation, but even today there’s a great deal of confusion over what the Constitution does and does not do.


Freedom of Speech

The Myth: Freedom of speech applies to everything.

The freedom of speech is not absolute, meaning that state governments can define what is and isn’t acceptable (the Supreme Court can, of course, strike down any laws deemed unconstitutional). This is the part that most people know, even if they don’t know specifically what is or isn’t covered under free speech. What less people realize is that this doesn’t cover every aspect of your life.

freedom of speech

For example, an employer can discipline you over something you’ve said or transmitted on the company dime or, in most cases, in public. The recent case of John Derbyshire illustrates this pretty well: Derbyshire wrote a controversial and racially charged piece for Taki’s Magazine, and the National Review dropped his column from their magazine as a result. Derbyshire’s defenders claim that this is a violation of free speech and censorship. It isn’t, but it’s somewhat understandable where the misconception might come from; in most cases hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. However, as mentioned earlier, free speech doesn’t guarantee that you can say what you want when you want. National Review wanted to distance themselves from Derbyshire after the piece ran, and it was perfectly legal.

Online forums fall under similar rules wherein privately run forums can delete or edit posts as they see fit. So no, the Constitution doesn’t prevent mods from trolling you into the ground. Sorry.


The Separation of Church and State

Myth: the separation of church and state is established in the Bill of Rights.

Read the Bill of Rights until you reach the phrase “separation of Church and State.” Congratulations! It’s not there.

separation of church

That misconception itself is fairly harmless, but it becomes a murky issue when they try to apply it without understanding what it actually means. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is how the section reads, and it’s important to note that Congress bit. The idea that it somehow bans Christmas displays, religious statues or any form of public religious practice is incorrect. Again, Federal branch can’t pass such laws, but states can (so long as they don’t violate the Constitution).

So where does the controversy come from? Discrimination. It’s been argued that public displays like the Ten Commandments outside a court house is the state supporting or promoting one religion over another. That, however, is a very murky argument that we won’t be getting into here.


Martial Law

Myth: Only Congress can declare martial law

Fun fact: “martial law” doesn’t appear at all in the Constitution. The closest it gets to touching on the subject is this bit here: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” People commonly connect Habeas Corpus to martial law, so by proxy they read the above statement as forbidding the declaration of martial law entirely. Ignoring that there are varying levels of martial law, that’s still not true.

martial law

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of United States history knows that martial law has been declared more than once, most famously during the Civil War. However, since martial law is, to some degree, military law and the president is Commander-in-Chief of the military, the argument has been made that the president is within legal grounds to declare martial law. When this happens, Congress has three options: agree with the president and let him roll with it, disagree with the president and leave it up to the Judicial branch to resolve (potentially creating a power struggle) or refuse to act, which is like the first option but with zero action from Congress. So, Congress is a necessary part of the equation even if they do nothing, but they are hardly the only part.



Myth: The Constitution guarantees your right to vote.

This one’s a bit surprising since the right to vote is the cornerstone of what makes a democracy, but once again this is not explicitly stated in the document itself. Instead, the Constitution sets up a list of reasons as to how you cannot be denied the right to vote, but beyond these reasons – mostly different forms of discrimination and not paying taxes – there is no absolute protection of the right to vote in the Constitution.


Once again the individual rights of States come into play. So long as any new laws don’t contradict the previous guidelines they’re considered legal. The best known example of this is states that forbid inmates from voting. As of this writing a few states are mulling over laws that would require voters to have different forms of identification.


The Bill of Rights

Myth: The Bill of Rights only applies to Americans.

This myth is perhaps the most persistent and relevant myth in today’s political scene. The ongoing War on Terror has created a few quagmires in regards to the legal process. It’s been argued that virtually every legal benefit we have as American citizens shouldn’t apply to foreign criminals prosecuted in America. The question is even older than the issue of terrorism and has been taken up by the Supreme Court several times.

bill of rights

And their take on it? The Bill of Rights applies to everyone on American soil. It’s been rare that a judge disagrees with this idea at all, in fact, and their debate tends to focus on location: should the Bill of Rights apply to in American locations not on American soil (see: Guantanamo Bay)? As silly as that sounds, that’s the real question in the debate that seems to get lost quite regularly in all the rhetoric. But let’s entertain the idea that the Bill of Rights somehow doesn’t apply to foreigners on American soil: where do you draw the line? Between the non-citizens that are here both legally and illegally, that’s a large number of people you need to make distinctions for.

Written by Ben Dennison – Copyrighted ©

Page 1 of 2

Latest Articles

7 Weird Ways People Try to Get Drunk

7 Weird Ways People Try to Get Drunk

People like their booze, and have for centuries upon centuries. It’s not a secret that basically as long as there have been human beings roaming the Earth, there have been human...

8 Ways Science Says Sex Is the Best Medicine

8 Ways Science Says Sex Is the Best Medicine

With a few odd exceptions, people love sex. Sex sells, people enjoy watching it, and more importantly, people enjoy having it. That’s because sex makes you feel good, and it...

10 Absolutely Baffling Celebrity Cameos in Music Videos

10 Absolutely Baffling Celebrity Cameos in Music Videos

Believe it or not, music videos are actually things that still exist, despite the fact that channels like MTV would have you believe otherwise. Celebrities popping up in a music...

7 TV and Movie Side Characters That Deserve Their Own Spinoffs

7 TV and Movie Side Characters That Deserve Their Own Spinoffs

One of the hardest things about writing fiction is coming up with interesting, fully developed side characters. After all, you can’t spend too much time on them because you...

8 Incredible Facts About Game of Thrones

8 Incredible Facts About Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is an absolute juggernaut. There’s no denying it. Along with Walking Dead, you’d be hard pressed to find a television show that gets more online chatter that...

7 Books That Should Would Make Great TV Shows

7 Books That Should Would Make Great TV Shows

With the return of the immensely successful and wildly popular Game of Thrones, it’s only natural to look at the bookshelf and imagine what books may have a chance to rival the...

8 Completely Off the Wall Zombie Movies

8 Completely Off the Wall Zombie Movies

First things first, let’s not pretend that zombie movies are ever going to be exactly “normal.” After all, we’re talking about movies that center on the conceit that the...

8 Famous Movie Quotes No One Ever Gets Right

8 Famous Movie Quotes No One Ever Gets Right

We’re living in a culture where half of what we say seems to come from television or the movies. At some points it feels like there are precious few original thoughts being...

People Are Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse in Awesomely Fun Ways

People Are Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse in Awesomely Fun Ways

We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: people love the idea of surviving in a zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead is the biggest show on television, and games like...

Real Life Superheroes Would Probably Be Jerks

Real Life Superheroes Would Probably Be Jerks

Everyone who has ever read a comic book, watched a superhero movie, or hell, even had a childhood fantasy has considered what it would be like to have superpowers. Everyone thinks...