The author of a written work may intend a certain meaning at the time that work was created, but the interpretation of that meaning is colored by the circumstances, history, education, and intentions of those who would read that work. This is especially true of the Constitution of the United States of America.
The U.S. Constitution was a collaborative effort of the great minds of the time, and its contents were debated by those who drafted it and those who voted on its ratification. The question of the framers' intent continues to be debated in modern political discourse, is evaluated and interpreted by jurists, and abused by those who would seek to use the contents of the Constitution to justify their own ends. Simply stated, the intentions of the framers of the Constitution were to provide a set of guidelines for the establishment of a central government that would be effective at providing stability while guarantying the autonomy of the states and the freedom of its citizens.
The Bill of Rights
The U.S. Constitution was a product of the times in which it was conceived, and in order to establish some idea of the intent, it is necessary to look at the context in which it was written. The rights of citizens as established in the Bill of Rights were meant to address specific grievances suffered under British rule and to prevent the same tyranny against the people by the newly formed American government.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution contain the Bill of Rights. This establishes the basic rights of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to privacy, and criminal rights, the words are clear.
They ensure that the rights of citizens are protected from unreasonable intrusion by the government. They guaranty that citizens have the right to speak out against tyranny and injustice, to assemble peacefully, and to exercise their religion freely and according to their own conscience, without fear of persecution, and against the establishment of an official state religion (Bill of Rights and Later Amendments, 2012). The Bill of Rights does not specifically mention a wall of separation between church and state, nor does it specifically guaranty a right to individual privacy.
The Bill of Rights also establishes that a person cannot be unjustly accused of a crime, that persons have a right to a fair and speedy trial, the right to face his or her accuser, and to defend themselves in a court of law. The government does not have the right to seize personal property without due cause and just compensation. The Ninth Amendment establishes the rights retained by the people, and guarantees that "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" (Bill of Rights and Later Amendments, 2012).
The Evolution of the Constitution and Modern Interpretation
The basic tenets of the Constitution have never changed in wording or intent. What has changed is the interpretation of that intent as it applies to changes in American society. Though literalists believe that it should be taken verbatim, the framers allowed for amendments signals that a part of their intent was that the Constitution should change and evolve with the times and circumstances.
For example, subsequent amendments to the Constitution gave equal status to women and minorities so that the statement "All men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..." is true (Stanton, 2009). The right to freedom of speech is not an absolute right when such speech intends to incite hatred, violence, or treason. Civil rights legislation determines that any form of speech, which disparages a person's race, sex, religion, or sexual preference is not Constitutionally protected speech when it violates the civil rights of others under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection' clause.
The right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned...