The First Amendment: separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government. The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms (in accordance with longstanding English common law: “…a public allowance under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”)

Detour! The Supreme Court currently considers general bans on gun ownership to be unconstitutional (e.g., all guns banned for whole communities) but is fine with tighter controls on individual gun ownership (see District of Columbia v. Heller). So, other than its symbolic value to gun control opponents and the archaic reference to militias, what is gained by getting rid of the 2nd Amendment? And please don’t say “gun control”, since (per Scalia et al) the 2nd Amendment does not contravene restrictions on individual gun ownership. (For the record, I’m a big fan of gun control but see any movement to repeal the 2nd Amendment as pretty much pointless). And if the inclusion of the outdated “militia” reference is sufficiently egregious to justify repeal, then why is that such an issue with the 2nd Amendment and not the 3rd Amendment? Speaking of which….

The Third Amendment: “no Soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house”, etc. ‘Nuff said.

The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring search warrants supported by probable cause.

The Fifth Amendment protects against double jeopardy and self-incrimination and guarantees the rights to due process, grand jury screening of criminal indictments, and compensation for the seizure of private property under eminent domain.

The Sixth Amendment establishes the right to a speedy and public trial; the right to trial by an impartial jury; the right to be informed of criminal charges; the right to confront witnesses; the right to compel witnesses to appear in court; and, the right to assistance of counsel.

The Seventh Amendment is about the right of trial by jury.

The Eighth Amendment says excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth Amendment clarifies that the Bill of Rights, does not constitute an explicit and exhaustive listing of all individual rights.

The Tenth Amendment reinforces the principles of separation of powers and federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or the people.

Of course, the Bill of Rights is not sacred and an Amendment that does more harm than good should be repealed, or at least revised. But the Rights represent core principles and protections and should not to be tinkered with or rejected lightly. That the Bill of Rights is a product of a certain place and time isn’t to say that these Rights are mere historical products. To recognize the special status of the Bill of Rights doesn’t have to reflect fear of change or an idealization of tradition but rests on an understanding of how essential these Rights are to civil society.