Bill of Rights

10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

The first changes to the Constitution were made to protect individual citizens and to limit the power of government. The Bill of Rights lists important freedoms that are promised to the American people. In most instances, these rights limit what government can do to individual people. These rights include:

  • Freedom of speech. The government cannot tell people what to say or not say. People can say what they want about public issues without fear of punishment.
  • Freedom of religion. The government cannot tell people what place of worship to attend. People can choose to worship—or not worship—as they please.
  • Freedom of the press. The government cannot decide what is printed in newspapers or heard on radio and TV.
  • Freedom to gather, or “assemble,” in public places.
  • The government cannot stop people from holding lawful public gatherings for many different purposes.
  • Freedom to own firearms. In most cases, the government cannot prevent people from owning guns.
  • Freedom to protest government actions and demand change. The government cannot silence or punishpeople who challenge government actions they don’t agree with.
  • The Bill of Rights also guarantees “due process.” Due process is a set of specific legal procedures that must be followed when someone is accused of a crime.
  • Police officers and soldiers cannot stop and search a person without good reason, and they cannot search people’s homes without permission from a court.
  • Persons accused of a crime are guaranteed a speedy trial by a jury made up of people like themselves. They are guaranteed legal representation and can call witnesses to speak for them. Cruel and unusual punishment is also forbidden.

Changing the Constitution

The U.S. Constitution is called a “living document” because the American people, acting through their state and national representatives, can change it when necessary. These changes are called “amendments.” It is a long and difficult process to change the Constitution, so it has been changed only 27 times over the course of our history. Besides the Bill of Rights, some important amendments are the Thirteenth, which forbids slavery, and the Fourteenth, which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law. The Nineteenth Amendment gives women the right to vote.


Citation: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Citizenship, Welcome to the United States: A guide for New Immigrants, Washington, DC, 2007, Revised Edition.