The first ten Amendments to the Constitution protect all of the basic freedoms of Americans and are known as the Bill of Rights. The most famous are perhaps the first, second and fifth Amendments.

First Amendment

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.The American Constitution

Americans believe that freedom of speech and expression are essential for any democracy. To debate and vote, to assemble and protest, to worship, to ensure justice for all - these all rely upon the unrestricted flow of speech and information. In his campaign to become President, Donald Trump exercised his right to freedom of speech in a range of ways through speeches, Twitter and the TV debates with Hilary Clinton.

Pressure groups or ‘interest groups’ also enjoy the freedoms the Constitution provides to be active in politics and religious groups are often particularly outspoken in American politics. The National Rifle Association uses the freedoms provided by the first Amendment to campaign for gun rights.

Second Amendment

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.The American Constitution
The window of Ye Old Gun Shop in Valencia, California
Yae Old Gun Shop in Valencia, California

This is the now controversial constitutional amendment which allows American citizens the right to own a gun. America won its War of Independence in 1783 against Britain with a citizen army.

After the war was over, citizens were allowed to keep their weapons. Guns and rifles in those days were primitive. It is now possible for an American to purchase very sophisticated military equipment.

In the aftermath of several mass shootings there have been calls for gun laws to be amended and even for there to be a new constitutional amendment.

The pressure group the National Rifle Association (NRA) is well supported and funded and opposes such reform.

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a crime, unless they have been judged by a jury (except in cases arising in time of war or public danger); nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.The American Constitution

If brought to court an American citizen can ‘take the Fifth’. This means that he or she does not have to give evidence that may self-incriminate (make themselves appear guilty).

There has been controversy surrounding the US military holding enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay because many of these prisoners did not face a trial with a jury. When President Obama was elected, he said he would close this facility, but failed to do so. The facility remains open. Human rights protesters believe it violates the right to a fair trial.