December 15 is Bill of Rights Day in the United States, a commemoration of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution. These amendments provide the basis for the individual freedoms that Americans enjoy today.
What is the Bill of Rights?
On December 15, 1791, the first amendments to the Constitution were ratified. Known as the Bill of Rights, these 10 amendments protect the most fundamental rights of Americans, like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to protest, and the guarantee of equal protection under the law. Other amendments include the right to bear arms, and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, among others.
When did the US begin observing Bill of Rights Day?
In November 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation dedicating December 15 as Bill of Rights Day, in honor of the document’s 150th anniversary. The first Bill of Rights Day would fall just eight days after the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequent US entry into World War II.
On the first Bill of Rights Day in 1941, President Roosevelt gave a radio address, stating in his opening that “No date in the long history of freedom means more to liberty-loving men in all liberty-loving countries than the fifteenth day of December 1791.” He also noted there wasn’t a country in the world that hadn’t felt the influence of the Bill of Rights, either directly or indirectly. He denounced Hitler and the Nazi state for taking away individual freedoms, and touched on the threats of tyranny nations faced.
Post-World War II observance
Five years later, in 1946, Congress made a request to observe Bill of Rights Day again, and President Harry Truman issued the proclamation. With World War II having ended just a year earlier, President Truman noted that it was “fitting that we should set aside a day for solemn contemplation of our liberties and of the recent world-wide battle to protect them from annihilation.”
However, it wasn’t until 1962 that the President has proclaimed Bill of Rights Day every year. According to the National Archives, the proclamation is usually paired with a proclamation on Human Rights Day and Week.
This year President Trump proclaimed December 15 as Bill of Rights Day again, and noted that “people around the world are empowered when human rights are protected by law.”
How should I celebrate Bill of Rights Day?
Should you find yourself in Washington, DC, you can see the original Bill of Rights on display at the National Archives Museum.
The Bill of Rights Institute encourages educators to celebrate the date in their classrooms, and offers computer games and lesson plans.
The US Courts suggest Bill of Rights Day is every day, and provides discussion prompts and activities.