I saw this sign from a protest against the kids who have fled the violence in Central America. It is literally true: the Bill of Rights applies to citizens. But of course, that’s not what the sign means. It means that the Bill of Rights only applies to citizens. This is a common and totally fallacious belief.
In truth, the entire Constitution has only 22 references to “citizen” in it and they are all about who can be elected to office, who can vote, and how citizens of one state interact with citizens of another state. As for the Bill of Rights, there is no mention whatsoever of citizens in the original ten. As for the amendments, except for one, every mention has to do with voting. The one exception is the 11th Amendment that has to do with citizens of one state or country suing citizens in another state. It really has nothing to do with citizens and was about the jurisdictional reach of the Supreme Court.
If you study the thinking that powered the founding of the United States, you will see that these men did not see rights as a special case for the United States. True: that was all they had control of. And they, like all men, had their many hangups. John Adams, for example, might have thought himself above a cobbler, be he thought a lawyer of property in England deserved the same rights as he did.
This is why the First Amendment reads, “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.” There’s nothing in that amendment that says that a tourist must be of the “right” religion or must shut up. That’s to say nothing of a national.
I have heard this kind of thinking that the Constitution is only for citizens from conservatives for years, however. This is not only sad and disappointing, it is dangerous. Conservatives are actually more fond of the Declaration of Independence than they are the Constitution. Yet that document is even more explicit. The key sentence is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” [My emphasis -FM] There is a strong current in the conservative movement that wants to move backwards from 1776. They want to limit rights, as though foreign people being granted rights somehow diminishes their own.
I realize that it would be too wordy to create a sign that read, “The Bill of Rights applies to CITIZENS but except for voting it also applies to EVERYONE.” But I assume the person who created that sign didn’t know this, didn’t know the history of this country, and didn’t care in a very real way, that we are a revolutionary people. And that means we are not looking out for only ourselves, but for everyone. We don’t want to form just a more perfect union, but a more perfect world. The Constitution, in its most important parts applies to all people. That is something that all fifth graders should know.