September 24, 2013

High school textbooks exclude property rights from Bill of Rights

By Christina M. Martin Attorney

Last week, the internet was buzzing about high school history textbooks that diminish or mis-characterize the Second Amendment.  What some of those reports have not mentioned, however, is that the same books fail to even mention that the Bill of Rights protects private property from government theft.

One book, The Americans, a history book for eleventh-graders, broadly lumps Amendments four through eight together as the Amendments that “guarantee fair treatment for individuals suspected or accused of crimes.”  In a list of each of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment is described simply as, “Rights of accused persons.”  Unless it is a crime to own property, this wording misses one of the most important protections listed in the Constitution – protection for the right to own property.

The Fifth Amendment provides that private property cannot “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”  This means that the government cannot take your house or other property unless it is for a public purpose and unless it pays you a fair amount for what it takes. Likewise, it must pay you if it takes the value of your property by regulating it so that you cannot use it.  The Fifth Amendment also protects your right to have a fair proceeding before the government can take away your life, liberty, or property.  This protection is known as Due Process and applies to everyone – not just individuals accused of crimes.

Another high school textbook omitted the Takings Clause, but at least included the Due Process protection.  That supplemental textbook is used to prepare advanced placement students for the AP test.  In all fairness, these textbooks are not alone.  They are joined by government agencies around the country that frequently “forget” about these rights.  Some elite constitutional scholars also minimize the importance of these rights.  Akhil Amar claims in his book The Bill of Rights that James Madison sneaked protection for property rights into the Fifth Amendment by “clever bundling”—i.e., “tying the clause to a variety of other provisions that commanded more enthusiasm.”  That is wrong, of course, since there were few rights about which eighteenth century Americans were more enthusiastic than the protection of private property, and Madison and his allies and opponents were outspoken about their belief in protecting that right. This and the textbook example are instances of Progressive ideology perverting the way our educators think about the past and teach it to the rising generation.

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