2013 Essay Contest Winners

First Place: Sarah Volkman, Little Miami High School

Essay: Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold believed that the right to be let alone is the underlying principle of the Constitution's Bill of Rights. I absolutely agree with Griswold's statement because I feel that the main principle the Founding Fathers had in mind when creating the Bill of Rights was to protect the personal lives of Americans from governmental intrusion. Because of this, I believe that the First and Fourth Amendments in particular have an incredibly influential impact on protecting my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Perhaps the most noticeable rights Americans enjoy are derived from the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and press guaranteed in the First Amendment. It is this primary amendment that gives America its aura of freedom, because if expression was repressed, oppression of the people would soon follow. As George Washington said, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." It is when the people can't voice their views that tyranny begins. The government has no control over my opinions and thoughts, so logically there is no reason that they should be able to stop me from sharing these views that I hold. One of America's greatest attributes is the diversity — of religions, of political ideologies, of beliefs -- found within our democracy, and it is the First Amendment that protects our ability to maintain this diversity. Thanks to the Bill of Rights, I can help to build upon the diversity by openly sharing my thoughts with others, with no interference on the part of the government.

If it were not for the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment, one can only imagine the havoc that could potentially consume each day. Without the need for warrants, a person's body, home, documentation, cars, and other personal belongings could be needlessly taken and scoured. Few, if any, Americans would be okay with a police officer showing up at his or her door and demanding to look inside for no particular reason. It is not the business or privilege of the government to know what is happening in one's personal life, assuming it is legal, and if it is not legal, then there would be a search warrant issued based upon probable cause allowing the supposedly illegal behavior to be examined further. Every day I am guaranteed the ability to sit in my own home and do whatever activity I choose to do without being interrupted by a government force. This freedom to live my own life holds immense value to me.

The Bill of Rights gives me the freedom to be myself, without worrying about what the government thinks about it. The first ten amendments were specifically designed by the founders of this country to protect the personal privacy of all Americans, a feat which they had great success in. Thanks to the Bill of Rights, my daily life remains unobstructed by the government.


Second Place: Matthew Duvelius, Lebanon High School

Essay:

Thomas Jefferson once said, "A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference." This perfectly outlines the importance of the Bill of Rights and its role in America. As a citizen, the Bill of Rights has a huge affect on me daily. As citizens we are extremely lucky to have this document to protect and ensure us all of our freedoms and rights.

Perhaps the most famous section of the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment. This right is so important, because it protects our rights to speech, press, petition, religion, and assembly. Especially as a young adult just starting to explore my political views the freedom of speech is very significant. Freedom of speech gives me the protection and security to say whatever my opinions are, regardless of how the president or the governor or anyone thinks. I am not afraid to speak out against how things are, because thanks to the freedom of speech and the Bill of the Rights I know that I am protected to say my mind. This freedom is extended even farther when we as citizens are granted the right to petition and assemble. These two freedoms are important because if I wanted to, I could organize some event, in order to try to create a change. Also, I think especially in Lebanon, Ohio, I take for granted that I am treated 100% normally for being a Catholic. While that may not seem like a huge deal, in many other countries being a Catholic, or a minority religion, is very difficult. In these different types of countries all of the members of a minority religion are in constant fear of what others might do. However, because of the First Amendment, I feel perfectly safe in practicing my faith.

Another important part of the Bill of Rights is the Fourth Amendment. This amendment is so crucial in my life, because it protects me from any unlawful search and seizure. This guarantees my privacy I have as a citizen. While I do not have anything to hide, this amendment affects my life, because I know I can live in piece of mind, where I am not worried about anyone going through any of my personal belongings. The piece of mind allows me to live a normal life without a fear of having to hide something just because I do not want a person to find it.

Overall, the Bill of Rights' significance is so great, that many citizens do not realize how much it protects. It is amazing that after 237 years this document is still arguably one of the most important. Without the Bill of Rights, we as citizens would not be guaranteed near as many freedoms as we have now.


Third Place: Maria Heiselman, Mason High School

Essay:

As most Americans know, the Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to our Constitution that gives each citizen certain rights that the federal government may not ignore or take away. These rights include: the right to a fair trial, to bear arms, to freedom of speech and religion, and the right to personal privacy. The Bill of Rights places restrictions on what the government can do and specifically lists the powers that the people will not give the government. But, how does the Bill of Rights affect my daily life?

I was first introduced to the Bill of Rights as an elementary school student. My teacher explained that each American citizen had rights and freedoms that those from other countries may not have. At this age, those statements sounded good, but really did not mean much. My interpretations were that I got to choose what flavor of ice cream to eat, what television program that I wanted to watch, and where I wanted to shop. It all sounded simple enough.

Today, as a high schooler, while I understand in theory these rights, I am not sure I can truly comprehend what having these rights means. Why? Because I have not had to experience what our Founding Fathers experienced. I have not had to fight for my freedom to speak openly, to protect my home from unreasonable search and seizure, or to be thrown in jail without probable cause. I, like most teenagers, have just accepted this as a part of my daily life. It is just another "entitlement" in what most call an "entitled" generation.

This "entitled" generation must now stand, take notice, and acknowledge that these rights are not to be taken for granted. In the past several months, several of our rights have been challenged inside and outside of the United States. From the right to bear arms, to whether same-sex marriage jeopardizes or is protected by the First Amendment, to whether the United States can protect Amanda Knox under the Fifth Amendment, the Bill of Rights are under constant scrutiny. However, in what other country would you be permitted to question or to discuss these topics other than the United States? Our First Amendment rights are unfathomable by those in many countries. We can write, blog, text, Facebook, tweet, and Instagram almost anything that comes to our minds without fearing the government. Our biggest fear is that our parents will take away our cellphone.

When you think about it, how incredible is it that the Founding Fathers wrote such comprehensive rights that would still be applicable on a daily basis over 200 years later? These rights give each of us the privilege to live a life that is free from fear, oppression, uncertainty, and discrimination. A Bill of Rights was written to protect American citizens from the government. It is this daily protection that enables me to live the American dream sought by our Founding Fathers.


Fourth Place: Ashley Brent, Springboro High School

Essay:

The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution has been vital to the survival of our sovereign nation. The freedoms granted to the American people in these first ten amendments allow us to live comfortable and opportune lives. These inalienable rights affect my life every day.

The First Amendment gives the freedoms such as religion and speech. The freedom of religion allows me to go to whichever church I please, and keeps me from being forced to believe any certain doctrine. Also, the freedom of speech allows me to not fear a punishment for speaking my mind and sharing opinions during discussions.

The Second Amendment allows the freedom to bear arms. Although I am against personally using a gun, it is good to know that if ever necessary, I could protect myself. Thirdly, the Bill of Rights grants that soldiers may not be quartered without consent. This does not apply to today very well, but it's an important protection that should still be appreciated. The Fourth Amendment protects from unreasonable search and seizure. I have never been, nor ever hope to be, suspected of a crime, so this is not entirely applicable to me but it affects me in that I am protected from random searches.

The Fifth Amendment protects people from giving self-incriminating statements. I have never been suspected of a crime, but this has affected my life in a fun way. I participate on Springboro High School's Mock Trial team, and this year's case focused on the violation of a girl's Fifth Amendment rights. As a prosecuting attorney, I had a challenge in finding a way for our argument to work around this vital amendment. I spent a lot of time working with this amendment as we went to the District and Regional Competitions this year.

The Sixth Amendment allows for a quick and speedy jury trial. In never having trouble with the law, I don't have experience with this amendment (nor the Seventh Amendment which protects the right to jury trial in civil suits), but eventually will be subject to a portion of it whenever I am called for jury duty. The Eighth Amendment protects citizens from excessive fines. I hope this will never apply to me, but if I ever get a parking ticket, it's nice to know it won't cost a million dollars.

The Ninth Amendment recognizes the other rights that we possess and grants that the Constitution will not restrict these rights. This gives me the freedom to choose where I go to college, what I do on my Saturday nights, and where I get my groceries. The Tenth Amendment says that the federal government won't hold all of the power. Under these amendments, I am protected to participate in the freedoms that I usually take for granted. The Bill of Rights, which may not entirely apply to my life at this time, gives freedoms that allow me to live a life that is led by me, not an overbearing government.