The Bill of Rights does not protect all forms of religious expression. For example, murder in the name of religion is still murder and is therefore illegal. Similarly, the government sometimes overrules parents whose religious beliefs conflict with certain medical practices by requiring the parents to have their children vaccinated. The government has gone back and forth over the extent to which it can restrain religious activities.
Example: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 required the government to accommodate religious behavior unless there is a compelling reason not to. The Supreme Court struck down parts of the act in 1997, claiming that Congress overstepped its authority. In fact, the Court has upheld the rights of some religious groups to use illegal substances, such as peyote, during religious ceremonies.
The Constitution gives many rights to people accused of crimes. The Founding Fathers sought to protect citizens of the United States from a government that would arrest and detain them without cause or trial, which is what Great Britain often did to American colonists before the Revolutionary War. According to the Constitution, a person accused of a crime has these rights:
Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, led the Supreme Court through many landmark civil rights and civil liberties cases. Some of the rights that the Warren Court established have been scaled back, but most of the basic principles have remained:
Privacy is never explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, yet many Americans believe that they have an inherent right to privacy. In practice, Americans today believe their right to privacy includes access to birth control, the freedom to have abortions, freedom from persecution for some sexual behaviors, and the right to die as one chooses.
In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the use of contraception because such a ban violated the right to privacy. Justice William O. Douglass argued that several amendments implied a right to privacy, particularly the Ninth Amendment, which states explicitly that the list of rights in the Constitution is not exhaustive.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Roe v. Wade that the government cannot ban abortion within the first trimester. The Court’s ruling is rooted in the woman’s right to privacy, which gives her the right to decide what to do with her body. Since Roe, the courts have limited abortion in a number of cases. In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), the Supreme Court ruled that states could ban the use of public funds for abortion. Three years later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court ruled that states could require pre-abortion counseling, a waiting period of twenty-four hours, and parental permission for girls under eighteen years old.
Many people now argue that the right to privacy extends to the right to choose one’s death. According to this view, people can choose to end their lives as they see fit. A decision in 1976 by the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a person could choose to refuse treatment for a terminal illness. Most courts have held, though, that people do not have a constitutional right to suicide, on their own or with a doctor’s assistance.