As you are no doubt aware, this Sunday, Dec. 15 marks the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill o’ Rights. As a public service, we have commissioned humor columnist/Constitution expert Eric D. Snider to summarize, with the help of his panel of analysts, the Bill o’ Rights so that you, as a citizen of the good ol’ U. S. of A., will not be an ignorant buffoon.
1st AMENDMENT: The first amendment is often called the “First Amendment,” because of all the amendments, it was the first. This amendment guarantees many things, but do not become arrogant and think this means you can do whatever you want, because you can’t. As the great statesman or judge or somebody whose last name was Holmes and whose first name escapes us at the moment once said, “Freedom of speech does not grant us the right to yell ‘Maggot!’ in a crowded morgue,” and he’ll get no argument from us, largely because he is dead.
Also, even though you have a right to practice religion however you choose, this does not mean that you have a right to practice religion however you choose. You couldn’t, for example, participate in a religion that involved the sacrificial slaughtering of senators, mainly because there are only a hundred of them, and you’d run out too soon. (Believe me, once you get on a roll knocking off senators, you just can’t stop.) Representatives would be OK, because there are hundreds of them, and no one would notice if they were gone anyway.
2nd AMENDMENT: This is the one that says you have the right to bear arms. It has been highly disputed, however, because it is rather clear that what the Framers meant was that, since in 1791 the militia was made up entirely of citizens, they had to ensure that those citizens would always be allowed to have guns, because let’s face it, an army without guns couldn’t beat anyone, except maybe France.
Nowadays, of course, we are far more socially advanced, although we do still use words like “nowadays.” Now, we have professional militias, militias made up of people who went to college just so they could be militias. So this amendment is kind of irrelevant now. What we need to do, we think, is stop trying to place restrictions on guns, because all that does is irritate NRA members, every single one of whom — you’ll pardon us for generalizing here — is bonkers. What we need to do is outlaw the manufacturing of bullets.
3rd AMENDMENT: This says that if soldiers just show up at your house one night uninvited, you don’t have to let them sleep there. It would be perfectly constitutional for you to call the police and have them arrested for trespassing, in fact.
4th AMENDMENT: This states that you and your house and your property cannot be searched or seized unless the police have a darned good reason for it, such as that you are a minority or Rodney King. If the police do not have a real good excuse right then, they must obtain a search warrant from a judge, which is not hard to do, because most county judges toss out search warrants about as often as they exhale. They get bored, sitting there all day dealing with traffic violators and that kind of thing, so when a cop comes in and says he wants to go ransack a guy’s house, those judges get so happy they could jump for joy, if they weren’t afraid their robes would fly up, exposing their underclothing.
5th AMENDMENT: This is a very famous amendment, because it is what Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North took back during the now-infamous arms-for-hostages “Watergate” scandal of Dec. 7, 1941, during which President Lincoln was shot at Hiroshima. Or something like that.
What it says is that you cannot be forced by the government to say something that might incriminate yourself. (An example of an incriminating statement might be, “Yes, Your Honor, I did,” or, “Yes, that’s true,” or even, “Why, certainly, yes, that’s what I did, all right.”) What the Framers didn’t realize was that when you say, “I’d rather not answer that question,” what you’re basically saying is, “YES! YES! I DID IT!!” This would probably affect the jury’s opinions in regards to whether you did it or not, but the Framers did not foresee this problem, largely because, back in the early days of United States history, when the Framers lived, everyone was stupid.
Another thing that the fifth amendment guarantees us is that you cannot be tried twice for the same offense. For instance, if a man murdered his wife and dumped her on the highway, but then was found innocent by the jury, but then announced that he did, in fact, do it, they could not try him again for murder. They could probably just fine him for littering.
6th AMENDMENT: What this says is that in a trial, the accused “shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,” but we fail to see how anyone could possibly enjoy his own trial, unless it was catered or something. It also says that accused persons have the right to be tried by an “impartial” jury, made up of their peers, but again, we find this difficult to believe. First of all, if we were unlucky enough to get stuck doing jury duty, we would probably have a very poor attitude, since we are immature and childish, and we would just automatically say that whoever was on trial was guilty.
Second, we think it would be very hard to find a group of 12 people who could be considered peers of a demented ax-murderer, with the exception of one or two Middle-eastern dictators, but they probably would not even show up. And third, any group of people who were too dumb to find a way out of doing jury duty are not MY peers, I can assure you.
7th AMENDMENT: This is a very little-known amendment. It says that (1) you have the right to trial by jury in any case that concerns more than $20, and 2) you have the right to shake your fist and go, “Woof! Woof! Woof!” when Arsenio Hall comes onstage. The second part of this amendment will hopefully be repealed before we get really irritated.
8th AMENDMENT: This protects us from cruel and unusual punishment. Many people argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, however, because the convicted person knows exactly when he’s going to die and he has time to worry about it and think about it and then finally the day comes and they ask him what he wants for his last meal and he gets his favorite food but he can’t eat it because all he can do is think about how he’s about to die and then they walk him down the cold, grey corridor to the gas chamber and they have the Religious Person reading him things in Latin, as though your average convicted murderer is multi-lingual, and then they lead him into the room and tell him to breathe deeply and they leave and lock him in and they go to the window so they can watch and see if something cool happens, such as his eyes falling out of their sockets, or his face melting, and they drop the cyanide tablets into the water and it fizzes like Alka-Seltzer, only it tastes better, and the man holds his breath for as long as he can until finally he can’t help it and he takes a deep breath and after a few seconds the cyanide fumes have burned out his lungs and he falls to the hard ground, clutching at his chest, gasping for air.
The solution, obviously, is to arrange it so the convicted person doesn’t know when he’s going to die. That way, it wouldn’t be cruel and unusual. We would suggest that they replace the bailiffs at murder trials with Samurai warriors, equipped with enormous swords, ready to leap from behind and lop the defendant’s head off as soon as the verdict is read. He’d never know what hit him. The only foreseeable problem would be this:
JURY FOREPERSON: We find the defendant guilty…
SAMURAI: (lops the guy’s head off)
JURY FOREPERSON: …of jaywalking, but not of murder.
But that’s the kind of snafu that is necessary for a democracy to run properly.
9th AMENDMENT: This says that of course the Constitution couldn’t possibly mention every single right that we, the People, have, and that there are plenty of others. New rights are being discovered every day, in fact, such as the right to distribute birth control devices to high school students.
10th AMENDMENT: This was thrown in at the last minute to make the Bill o’ Rights come out to an even ten amendments. All it says is that old ladies have the right to carry on detailed conversations with inanimate objects, such as their plants or their cats.
And there you have it. We hope that we have educated you somewhat in the workings of the Bill o’ Rights, and that we have instilled in you an appreciation and understanding of that all-important document, and that we have successfully written enough material to fill 45 column inches.
My editor, Eric Grimm, refused to print this column, which was intended as a features-page special edition "On the Light Side." I can't remember his exact words, but I think he even said it was "disgusting." He felt I was making fun of the Constitution, and mocking everything we hold sacred, and blah blah blah. The ironic thing is that the very same week, he let me print a highly offensive column about fat people. (Read it here.)
It's too bad, because I think this Bill o' Rights column is pretty funny, even though I stole several jokes (and the basic premise) from Dave Barry. Oh well. It's here now, and everybody can read it. So there.