New Citizens Take Oath on Anniversary of Bill of Rights

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On Dec. 15th, 1791, the first Congress of the United States ratified the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which granted fundamental rights to United States citizens.

But 219 years later, some Americans have a tough time recalling all ten amendments that were so ingrained in the minds of the founding fathers. When asked if he could list the ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights, Utah teacher Paul Sutorius said, "Absolutely not."

"I think sometimes in defining what it is to you, it's maybe what would life be like without it," Sutorius said. "The Bill of Rights just reaffirms, tell us what we do have, just naturally and what living in America means."

Many people consider the First Amendment, which grants freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, to assemble and to petition, to be the most essential.

"The most important right in the Bill of Rights, I believe, is the right to free speech," Jonathan Koehle, a Georgetown University Law student, said. "That way we can always express what we feel. We can use our arguments to persuade people, to bring them to our cause."

To commemorate Bill of Rights Day, a civil holiday instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt in honor of the 150th anniversary in 1941, the National Archives hosted a naturalization ceremony for 25 petitioners from 22 countries seeking citizenship. The naturalization candidates hailed from all parts of the world, from Australia and Switzerland to Iraq and Morocco.

For Siddhi Patel, a Kenyan immigrant, who came to the U.S. for job opportunities and now works in community services for the U.S. Marine Corps, being sworn in as a U.S. citizen in the same room that holds the Bill of Rights carried a powerful meaning for him.

"If they weren't written, if the Bill of Rights were not there, I would not be here today, so it absolutely is the most fitting, fitting event," Patel said. "This is by far the best day of my life today, and I'm very proud to be an American."

In a technological twist the country's forefathers never would have imagined, the National Archives also held a Twitter contest, asking followers to tweet the principles of each amendment in 140 characters or less. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero selected one winner for each amendment.

The winning tweet for the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable search and seizure, came from @swanroad. "Don't seize me big bro! or search me, without a warrant."

The 10th Amendment, which grants the powers not delegated to the federal government to the states or the people, interpreted via Twitter by @azaroth42: "Power to the people! (conditions apply, void where prohibited)."

The National Archives Building houses the original "Charters of Freedom," which consists of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, in the rotunda of the Charters of Freedom. The Bill of Rights sits in glass encasement under dim light to avoid damage to the fading parchment.

At this time of year, nearly 2,000 sightseers visit the National Archives to see the Charters of Freedom; the number jumps to 5,000 in the spring and summer months.

But when visitors look at the Bill of Rights, they are often dismayed by the number of amendments they see.

"They come anticipating ten amendments, exactly ten amendments. What they find is that the original document, the one Congress sent to the states for ratification, actually has 12 articles of amendment on it, and the First Amendment isn't first," Marvin Pinkert, Director of the National Archives Experience said.

The original document presented to Congress contained two articles not included in the final Bill of Rights. The first called for an amendment which would require one representative for every 50,000 people in the country.

"Had this been ratified, our current House of Representatives would have about 6,000 members to it," Pinkert said. "Of course they didn't anticipate we'd ever be a nation of 300 million people."

The second article included in the original Bill of Rights eventually became the 27th Amendment, which outlines that Congress shall not raise its salary without standing for election, to the Constitution in 1992.

But even if these two amendments didn't make the final cut, American citizens are still appreciative of the guidance and protections the Bill of Rights has offered.

"The Bill of Rights to me is the charter of freedoms that we have," Robert Kyle of Richmond, Va. said. "It contains the rights for us as citizens, as individuals under our government. Without it, it's a ship that's rudderless, so it's the guide for all of us."