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“The strength of these rights and freedoms depends on how firmly they stand in the hearts of our citizens.”

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2008

A Wall of Separation between Church and State

In explaining to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association why he refused to proclaim national days of fasting and thanksgiving as his predecessors had done, President Thomas Jefferson asserted that the Constitution built a wall of separation between church and state. Jefferson’s many deletions and emendations to this draft indicate the great care he used in phrasing his opinion.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen S. Nelson, January 1, 1802. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (121) [Digital ID# us0121]

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To Bigotry No Sanction

Moses Seixas (1744–1809), warden of Touro Synagogue, welcomed President George Washington to Newport, Rhode Island, and, with the newly adopted Bill of Rights in mind, praised the new Federal Union for promoting civil and religious liberty. It was a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, asserted Seixas. Washington responded: It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was an indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.

Letter from Moses Seixas to George Washington, August 17, 1790. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (121.02.00) [Digital ID# us0121_02]

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Federal Government Fails to Curb Lynching

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) was the leading voice in the Roosevelt Administration for equal rights for African Americans and women. In this letter to Walter White, Secretary of the NAACP, she outlines her lobbying efforts for federal action against lynchings despite her husbands denial that the federal government had a constitutional role to play in preventing them.

Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White, March 19, 1936. Manuscript. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (121.04.00) [Digital ID# us0121_04]

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Revolution and Change in American Society

In this 1958 essay, “The Novel in America,” African American writer Ralph Waldo Ellison (1913–1994) wrote that the American society, based upon revolution, dedicated to change through its basic conception stated in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, is intended to be an open society.

Ralph Ellison. “The Novel in America,” 1958. Typescript with emendations in Ellison’s hand. Ralph Ellison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (122.00.01) Digital ID#s us0122_01p1, us0122_01p2, us0122] Estate of Fanny McConnell Ellison

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Separation of Church and State

Thomas Jefferson believed strongly in religious freedom and the separation of church and state. As president, Jefferson was accused of being a non-believer and an atheist. Jefferson attended church services in the Capitol and on several occasions expressed his beliefs including this letter explaining his constitutional view. “I consider the government of the US. as interdicted by the constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. this results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the US.”

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Reverend Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (122.01.01) [Digital ID# us0122_01p4, us0122_01p3]

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President Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms

President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) tried to rouse support for an aggressive foreign policy in his January 1, 1941, Four Freedoms speech before Congress. Roosevelt’s four proposed universal freedoms were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This photograph shows the president looking at a World War II propaganda poster by artist Howard Chandler Christy (1873–1952) that links the Bill of Rights with Roosevelt’s proposed freedoms.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Howard Chandler Christy poster, [1942]. Lithographic poster. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (123.01) [Digital ID# ppmsca-18340]

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Ben Franklin and Freedom of the Press under Arrest

Americans have long associated freedom of the press with American author, publisher, journalist and statesman Benjamin Franklin. Peter Green’s (b. 1945) satirical drawing in which two thug-like policemen apprehend Franklin in his print shop can be seen as a commentary on perceived authoritarian curbs on freedom of the press during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.

Peter Green. [Benjamin Franklin under arrest, ca. 1970–1977]. Ink and graphite drawing with printed overlay. Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (123.02.00) [Digital ID# cph.3b31134]

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Free Speech Can Not Exist in Principle Only

In a Supreme Court case opinion, Justice Abe Fortas (1910–1982) forcefully declared that Under our Constitution, free speech is not a right that is given only to be so circumscribed that it exists in principle but not in fact. His opinion was given in a case in which a public school banned students from wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The decision in the case is still used to determine whether a school's disciplinary actions violate students constitutional rights under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Abe Fortas. Opinion of the Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, February 24, 1969. Printed document. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (124) [Digital ID# us0124]

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Establishing the Miranda Rights

Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891–1974) wrote the majority opinion in the case of Ernesto Arturo Miranda against the state of Arizona, decided on June 13, 1966, and which was one of a group of four similar cases. The majority decision established that before a defendant’s statement to police could be admitted as evidence, the prosecution had to prove that the defendant was informed of his right to counsel and against self-incrimination, now referred to as “Miranda Rights.”

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  • Earl Warren. Notes concerning the Miranda Decision. Miranda v. Arizona. 1966. Manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (124.01.00) [Digital ID#s us0124_01, us0124_01p2]

  • Justice William E. Brennan, Jr. Comments on the Miranda Decision. Memorandum, May 11, 1966. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (133.00.00) [Digital ID#s us0133, us0133p1]

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Right to Privacy

In this cartoon, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Herbert Block Herblock (1909–2001) criticizes President Richard Nixons administrations abuse of the right of privacy implied in the Bill of Rights. The title most likely refers to Nixon’s remarks at the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Dinner in New York City in December 1969: This is a candid, open administration. We believe in telling the truth about football and everything. Not long after, the U.S. Civil Service Commission admitted to having a Security Investigations Index with more than 10 million entries, and the armed forces revealed their surveillance of Americans involved in anti-Vietnam war activities.

Herbert Block. Open Administration, March 19, 1970. Graphite, ink brush, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing, with overlay. Herbert Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Gift of the Herblock Foundation (125.01) [Digital ID# ppmsca-18341] A 1970 Herblock Cartoon, Copyright by The Herblock Foundation

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Separation of Church and State

In his 1964 editorial cartoon, Herblock addressed proposed constitutional amendments guaranteeing states the right to create prayers for students to recite in public schools. In 1962, the Supreme Court had decided, in Engle v. Vitale, that states could not compose a prayer for students’ recitation after parents opposed the existing practice. Religious leaders initially charged the Supreme Court with having expelled God from school, but as they confronted the issue of institutionalized public prayer, many embraced the decision upholding the separation of church and state.

Herbert Block. Every Schoolchild Should be Made to Pray Against Government Interference with Private Lives. June 2, 1964. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Gift of the Herblock Foundation (125.02.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-19170] A 1964 Herblock Cartoon, Copyright by The Herblock Foundation

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Due Process of Law

Due process of law is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. In this cartoon, Herblock portrays the reaction of poor southern Whites to the introduction of the Civil Rights Protection Act of 1966 in the Senate on February 10, 1966. Dubbed the Southern Justice Bill, the legislation sought to reduce inequity in the judicial system by requiring integration of jurors and making it a federal crime to interrupt the work of civil rights activists. This new legislation was introduced months after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 went into effect. The legislation never reached the House; the Senate leaders could not bring it to a vote.

Herbert Block. First the ballot box and next the jury box. It just ain't fair, February 13, 1966. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Gift of the Herblock Foundation (125.03.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-19871]

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Creating a National Anthem

On September 7, 1814, Francis Scott Key was onboard a British warship seeking the release of an American prisoner, when he observed the British attack on Fort McHenry at Baltimore, Maryland. Impressed that the fort held out against the British fleet, Key penned a poem, Defence of Fort McHenry, which was published on September 17, 1814 and quickly became very popular when sung to an old British drinking tune by John Stafford Smith. In 1931 it was declared the national anthem by Congress.

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  • Francis Scott Key. “Star-Spangled Banner, ” October 21, 1840. Manuscript. Music Division, Library of Congress (129.00.00) [Digital ID# vc05112x.jpg]

  • Francis Scott Key. “Star-Spangled Banner” (First edition). Baltimore: 1814. Printed sheet music. Music Division, Library of Congress (130.00.00) [Digital ID# vc29.1.jpg]

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Taxation without Representation

On the 156th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the absence of any representatives in Congress from the District of Columbia is protested in this 1929 image by political cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman (1869–1949). An eighteenth-century man is seated in a chair looking at a poster commemorating the tea party, while outside the window can be seen the Capitol, labeled “Voteless Washington.”

Clifford K. Berryman. “Taxation without Representation is Just as Objectionable Today as It Was in 1773,” published in the Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 16, 1929. Pen and ink drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (129.01.00) [Digital ID# acd-2a06257]

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“Ever read the Bill of Rights, Zonker?”

Comic strip character Mike Doonesbury discusses the Bill of Rights and the proposed flag burning amendment with Zonker Harris in this Garry Trudeau (b. 1948) installment of Doonesbury. The characters in this strip talk at length about freedom of speech and what should be the limits on desecration of the American flag. In 1989, the Supreme Court struck down flag desecration laws in forty-eight states by ruling that flag desecration is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Garry B. Trudeau. “Ever read the Bill of Rights, Zonker?” in Doonesbury. Published August 13, 1989. Drawing on lined paper, ink, Whiteout, and pencil. Garry B. Trudeau Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Copyright 1989, Universal Press Syndicate and G.B. Trudeau. (123.03.00)

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America’s “New Security”

This Herblock (1909–2001) political cartoon attacks “abuse” of the Constitution in investigations of Vietnam War protesters, political opponents, and civil rights leaders during the administration of President Richard Nixon (1913–1994). Here, United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell (1913–1988) places a tape recorder in a man’s bedroom as he throws out the fourth amendment, which asserts “The right of a person to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Herblock (Herbert Block). The New Security, ca. 1971. Ink drawing. Herbert L. Block Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (129.02.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.24341]

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James Madison on Separation of Church and State

As a fervent supporter of religious freedom and the separation of church and state, James Madison opposed the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom.

James Madison. Detached memorandum, ca. 1823. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (133.01.00) [Digital ID# us0133_01]

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Jefferson Reaffirms Separation of Church and State

In Thomas Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805, the president strongly reaffirmed the stand on the separation of church and the federal government that he had made in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. Jefferson said he would leave the control of religion to “state or church authorities.”

Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (122.02.00) [Digital ID# us0122_02]

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