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A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights
A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights
A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights
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A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights

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Which 462 words are so important that they've changed the course of American history more than once? The Bill of Rights: the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the crucial document that spells out how the United States is to be governed.

Packed with anecdotes, sidebars, case studies, suggestions for further reading, and humorous illustrations, Kathleen Krull's introduction to the Bill of Rights brings an important topic vividly to life. Whether you're a middle grader or high schooler or even an adult, and whether you're looking to expand your knowledge or to reearch a report, the format of this "kids' guide" makes the information understandable and interesting.

Find out what the Bill of Rights is and how it affects your daily life in this fascinating look at the history, significance, and mysteries of these laws that are designed to protect the individual freedoms of Americans—including young people.

Some of the questions addressed in this easy-to-follow book:

  • Why did early American founders argue that individuals needed a Bill of Rights to protect them from government?
  • Why is freedom of speech so thrilling and so controversial?
  • What is religious intolerance, and when can it be fatal?
  • What does it really mean to take the Fifth?
  • How does the Bill of Rights affect the rights of kids?
Release dateSep 15, 2015
A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights
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Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull is well known for her innovative, award-winning nonfiction for young people, including Lives of the Explorers, Lives of the Musicians, and all other books in this popular series illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. She is also the author of Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, as well as The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) and Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country), both co-written with Paul Brewer and illustrated by Stacy Innerst. She lives in San Diego, California. Visit her online at kathleenkrull.com. 

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    A Kids' Guide to America's Bill of Rights - Kathleen Krull


    To Colin Krull, in honor of fireworks, root beer floats,

    and your career in law


    To Joseph and Jonathan




    Introduction: The Bill of Rights—What Is It?

    Here They Are—the 462 Words

    Chapter 1: The Bill of Rights and You

    Mysterious Things

    Top Nine Things to Remember About the Constitution

    The True Story of the Bill of Rights

    The 100-Pound Giant

    Still Controversial After All These Years

    Who Are These Guys?

    Not Very Nice People

    Why December 15 Is Amazing

    Where Is the Bill of Rights?

    Chapter 2: The First Amendment, Part 1—People Worshipping as They Please

    What’s Going on Here?

    How Religious Intolerance Can Be Fatal

    The Wall

    Classrooms Are Hotter Spots Than You Think

    Prayers That Have Led to Court Cases

    The Diversity of Spiritual Beliefs in America

    Some Resources

    The Monkey Trial

    The Monkey Teacher

    The Future of Religious Freedom

    Chapter 3: The First Amendment, Part 2—People Speaking Freely

    Powerful Medicine

    Some Things You Can Do Under the First Amendment

    Freedom for the Thought That We Hate

    Some Things You Can’t Do Under This Amendment

    Still a Burning Issue

    A Word from the Presidents

    Chapter 4: The First Amendment, Part 3—What Freedom of the Press Means

    Can Books Be Dangerous?

    Lots of Variety in Censorship

    What the Courts Say

    What Kids Can Print

    Handy Resources

    The First Amendment Online

    Other Hot Topics

    The Exhilaration of Tolerance

    Chapter 5: The Second Amendment, or People and Guns

    In the Eye of the Beholder

    Laws Elsewhere

    The Gun Control Debate

    Anti-gun Control Organizations

    Pro-gun Control Organizations

    Various Responses to the Second Amendment

    How Have the Courts Helped?

    War and Guns

    Kids and Guns

    Chapter 6: The Third Amendment, or Why Soldiers Can’t Live in Your House

    What Were Soldiers Doing in Houses?

    Why This Chapter Is Short

    The Third Amendment in Court

    Chapter 7: The Fourth Amendment, or Searching and Seizing

    A Background of Outrage

    Diane Doe’s Story

    New Jersey v. T.L.O.

    The Seventh-Grade Football Star

    Vomit, National Security, and Other Search-and-Seizure Issues

    Searches That James Madison Probably Did Not Foresee

    An Erosion of Rights?

    Search and Seizure Elsewhere


    Chapter 8: The Fifth Amendment, or Criminal Justice

    Infamous Crimes

    What Taking the Fifth Really Means

    What Kind of Game Is Double Jeopardy?

    Being Made Aware of Your Rights

    Who Was Miranda and What Did She Do?

    The Miranda Warning

    The Innocent versus the Guilty

    Chapter 9: The Sixth Amendment, or More Criminal Justice

    A Speedy and Public Trial

    An Impartial Jury

    Gerald Gault and Being Informed of the Accusation

    Confronting the Witnesses

    Obtaining Witnesses

    Blockbuster Cases Involving the Assistance of Counsel

    The Scottsboro Cases

    Gideon’s Legacy

    When Is a Minor Not a Minor?

    What Rights Do Kids Have?

    More on Justice for Young People

    And What About Curfews?

    A Shelter for Criminals?

    Chapter 10: The Seventh Amendment, or Civil Justice

    A Twenty-Dollar Value

    Life Without a Seventh Amendment

    Consider the Alternatives

    Types of Civil Trials

    Who’s Who on the Jury

    A Magic Number

    Chapter 11: The Eighth Amendment, or Punishments

    More Information on Student Punishments

    Excessive Bail

    Excessive Fines

    Cruel and Unusual Punishments

    Punishments Elsewhere

    Information on Human Rights Abuses

    The Ultimate Punishment

    More on the Ultimate Punishment

    The Price of a Death Penalty

    Supreme Court Cases That Have Affected Use of the Death Penalty

    Chapter 12: The Ninth Amendment, or Everything Else

    A Most Mysterious Amendment

    The Father of the Bill of Rights Responds to the Timid People

    Uncharted Waters

    The Landmark Ninth Amendment Case

    And the Most Controversial Ninth Amendment Case

    Supreme Court Decisions Since Roe v. Wade

    Chapter 13: The Tenth Amendment, or What About the States?

    The Oddball Amendment

    Federal versus State Government

    Chapter 14: There’s More? (Yes—Seventeen Other Amendments)

    Chapter 15: When the Bill of Rights Goes Wrong

    Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading

    About the Author



    About the Publisher


    The Bill of Rights—What Is It?

    The list we call the Bill of Rights may seem simple. After all, it’s only 462 words long. But since it became law over 200 years ago—in 1791—millions of words have been written about it. And a lot of those words affect the way you live every day.

    QUESTION: What is the Bill of Rights?

    SIMPLE ANSWER: The first ten amendments (or additions) to the United States Constitution.

    QUESTION: What is its point?

    SIMPLE ANSWER: To protect people against government.

    Congratulations. You now know something many grown-ups do not. In one survey, 33 percent of adults couldn’t identify the Bill of Rights, and fewer than 10 percent knew its purpose. Numbers like these make some people panic: Is the Bill of Rights in danger of being forgotten?

    But the Bill of Rights won’t be forgotten by those who realize it’s about important stuff—sometimes even life-and-death stuff. It’s a list of ten promises intended to protect the rights of all Americans—including kids.

    Because of it, the federal (or national) government cannot tell you what to believe, or what to say, or what religion to practice, or what friends you can have.

    That makes the Bill of Rights the broadest protection of individual freedom ever written.

    Here They Are—the 462 Words

    These are the very important words of the United States Bill of Rights:

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

    4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service 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.

    6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

    7. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

    8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


    The Bill of Rights and You

    These ten very important promises are part of the ultimate laws of the land—the guidelines all newer laws are supposed to respect.

    QUESTION: What does all this gobbledegook really mean?

    ANOTHER QUESTION: And what does the Bill of Rights mean to you?

    Mysterious Things

    AND A THIRD QUESTION: Why wasn’t the Constitution enough?

    You recall the Constitution. It’s that very important document that spells out how the United States is to be governed.


    1.It begins with We the people.

    2.It says that the majority of the people, through democratically elected representatives, govern the country.

    3.It was drawn up in 1787 and went into effect two years later.

    4.It sets up a balance between national (or federal) government and state governments.

    5.It further separates powers by establishing three branches of national government: the executive (the president), the legislative (the Congress), and the judicial (the Supreme Court).

    6.These branches of government check up on each other in a system of checks and balances, so no one branch gets too powerful.

    7.No law can be passed that disagrees with it.

    8.A lot of arguing went into the making of it.

    9.A lot of arguing has gone on about it ever since.

    One of the beauties of our Constitution is its flexibility: it was built to last. In fact, its meaning changes with the times. It can even mean totally opposite things at different points in history. For example, in an 1896 Supreme Court case called Plessy v. [short for versus] Ferguson, racial segregation was found constitutional, which means OK according to the Constitution. But as of 1954, in another case called Brown v. Board of Education, the Court decided exactly the opposite: segregation was unconstitutional, and therefore it was outlawed.

    But no sooner was the Constitution wrestled into words than the mysteries and complications began. All sorts of people criticized it for all sorts of reasons. The general public’s sorest spot was the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights. Having branches of government check on each other was nifty, but it wasn’t enough. Minorities needed protection from the majority. Individual people needed protection from the government.

    These critics argued that a powerful central government without safeguards for people was dangerous. Why? Because historically governments try to expand their power at the expense of individual liberty. We take such liberty for granted now, but back then American people suffered a lot of abuse without it. One critic actually compared a constitution lacking a bill of rights to arsenic that would poison your body; another called government a runaway horse that would break people’s necks. One particularly violent critic said that he would rather chop off his right hand than sign a constitution without a bill of rights.

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