Top 5 Things Students Should Know about the Bill of Rights

You probably didn’t know that there is a Bill of Rights day. ThinkFives researched special events that teachers can share with students and found that the U.S. has been celebrating this day for over 75 years.

What is the Bill of Rights Day?

On December 15, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the Bill of Rights Day, recognizing the history and importance of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

These amendments spell out our rights as Americans, guaranteeing civil rights and liberties such as freedom of speech, press, and religion. What should students know? We’re glad you asked.

What is the Bill of Rights, and Why Was it Added to the Constitution?

When our founding fathers were drafting the U.S. Constitution, a federal bill of rights was discussed at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Several states, including Virginia, already had a state bill of rights. The delegates rejected the idea, but many states threatened not to approve the Constitution without a bill of rights until the people’s rights were clearly spelled out.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, led the fight to adopt a bill of rights. Madison soon realized that by pledging to add amendments after its ratification, divided states such as New York and Virginia would ratify the Constitution.

Madison began his work soon after the initial Congress convened, and on December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the ten amendments. The Bill of Rights then became part of the Constitution.

What Does the Bill of Rights Say?

Thomas Jefferson 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.” The Bill of Rights guarantees certain rights and protects citizens against a tyrannical government.

The Bill of Rights in summary:

  • 1st Amendment: freedoms of religion, speech, and the press; the right of the people to assemble; the and the right of people to petition the government
  • 2nd Amendment: provision for a well-regulated militia and the guarantee to bear arms.
  • 3rd Amendment: the right torefuse to let soldiers stay in homes
  • 4th Amendment: protection for individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.
  • 5th Amendment: a prohibition against double jeopardy; protection against being forced to testify against oneself; guarantee of “due process.”
  • 6th Amendment: the right to a speedy public trial by jury; the right to have a lawyer; the right to confront hostile witnesses.
  • 7th Amendment: provision for trial by jury in civil lawsuits
  • 8th Amendment: a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments
  • 9th Amendment: acknowledges that the people have rights that are not specified in the Constitution
  • 10th Amendment: retains powers not given to the government in the Constitution for the states and people

How is the Bill of Rights Enforced?

Once ratified, it was given to the state and federal courts to enforce and interpret the Bill of Rights. The courts and, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court determines whether constitutional principles have been violated by local or federal laws or actions.

Despite the simplicity of the Bill of Rights, the task of interpreting it is far from easy. The court must decide difficult questions, often balancing the rights of the individual against the good of society. 

One example is how much the government can limit individual freedoms for reasons of public safety. Another example is which powers should be enacted by the federal government and what laws should be regulated to a state’s right.

Originally, the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government. However, when the 14th Amendment declared that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” the Supreme Court eventually ruled that state governments must respect the Bill of Rights.  

How Does the Bill of Rights Affect Schools?

There are so many ways the Bill of Rights either changed history or has been used by our courts to expand rights. These rights apply to schools as well. Here are a few examples.

Rights at School

  • Speech rights: The court declared that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
  • Dress codes: Schools must make the case that a certain kind of dress is disruptive to school activities. They cannot use dress codes to punish girls, people of color, transgender and gender non-conforming students and free speech.
  • Immigrant rights: Undocumented children cannot be denied their right to a free public education.
  • Disability rights: Public schools are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities and cannot deny them equal access to academic courses, field trips, extracurricular activities, school technology, and health services.

Fun Facts About the Bill of Rights

  • There were originally 12 amendments to the Constitution presented to the Senate, but the first two were never ratified. The 27th Amendment was one of them (representative pay) and was finally ratified in 1992.
  • Can the Bill of Rights be rescinded? Yes, but highly unlikely. All amendments can be changed or rescinded by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress.
  • A predecessor to the US Bill of Rights was the English Bill of Rights, which was passed in 1689 and limited the power of the monarchy, outlining individual rights such as freedom of speech.
  • Three states didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia didn’t send their approvals to Congress until 150 years after the Bill of Rights came to be.
  • The third Amendment is the least litigated of all amendments (soldiers in homes), and the Supreme Court has never decided a case on the basis of it.

What do you think students should know about the Bill of Rights?



  1. History is so important to learn as we try not to make the same mistakes from our past. This is all important information for not only students, but also adults.

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