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River Views

In this time of economic crisis, in this time of war and unrest, would you sign a petition which uses the following provocative language?

Whenever any government becomes destructive of the rights of its citizens it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles as these:

All persons born in this country are citizens of this country.

The right to vote will not be denied to any citizen of this country born in another country, nor will the right to vote be denied to any citizen on account of their color or race.

No law shall be made that reduces the freedom of the press.

Law enforcement will not have the right to search a person, including his or her home, papers and effects, without probable cause supported by a sworn statement describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be searched and/or seized.

Private property will not be taken for public use without just compensation.

No law will be made about the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.

No law will deprive the people the right to peaceably assemble.

No citizen will be forced to house soldiers during peacetime, or in time of war.

All citizens accused of a crime will have the right to a trial by an impartial jury.

No person will be forced to be a witness against themselves in a criminal case.

No fact heard by a jury in a civil law case will be reexamined by any other court in the country.

No law will reduce a citizen’s right to speak freely.

Well-regulated militias being necessary for the security of a free country, the right of a person to keep and bear arms will not be infringed upon.

Excessive bails and/or fines will not be imposed by any court, nor shall cruel and unusual punishments be inflicted.

All citizens will have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

All rights not listed herein will be retained by the individual citizen.

* * *

Congratulate yourself if you recognized the wording above as coming directly from, or simple paraphrasing of, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. If you hesitated at any of the rights enumerated, you might want to re-think your belief system. But don’t feel alone. In 1951, at the height of the “Red Scare” brought on by the House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee and Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts, a young journalist named John Patrick Hunter took a similar petition made up of quotes from the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to a Fourth of July gathering. Twenty people who read the petition accused Hunter of being a Communist. Some people expressed approval of parts of the document, but were afraid to sign the petition lest it be used against them as subversives. Others refused to sign because they had loyalty oaths attached to their government jobs. A single, solitary citizen out of the 112 Americans who read the petition recognized the true origins of the wording and signed his name to it.

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