December 15th is a day to celebrate the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This is the date when the Bill of Rights was ratified.
A Bill of Rights was suggested while the Constitution was still being written. Some of the framers of the Constitution believed that it would be impossible to make a complete list of human rights. They thought it would be better not to make a list than to make an incomplete list. If they failed to mention something, some argued, people might use that fact as evidence that the thing they left out was not a right.
Others disagreed on what exactly was a right. There were seventeen items to begin with, but only ten made the cut.
Much later, in the Insular Cases determined by the Supreme Court, it was decided that Puerto Rico wasn’t protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights specified the right to trial by jury, for example, but that didn’t mean that the people living in Puerto Rico had a right to trial by jury.
Puerto Rico Bill of Rights
Puerto Rico has her own Bill of Rights: Article 2 of the Puerto Rico Constitution is known as the Bill of Rights, too.
BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 1. The dignity of the human being is inviolable. All men are equal before the law. No discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, sex, birth, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas. Both the laws and the system of public education shall embody these principles of essential human equality.
Section 2. The laws shall guarantee the expression of the will of the people by means of equal, direct and secret universal suffrage and shall protect the citizen against any coercion in the exercise of the electoral franchise.
Section 3. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. There shall be complete separation of church and state.
Section 4. No law shall be made abridging the freedom of speech or of thepress, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Section 5. Every person has the right to an education which shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. There shall be a system of free and wholly non-sectarian public education. Instruction in the elementary and secondary schools shall be free and shall be compulsory inthe elementary schools to the extent permitted by the facilities of the state. No public property or public funds shall be used for the support of schools or educational institutions other than those of the state. Nothing contained in this provision shall prevent the state from furnishing to any child non-educational services established by law for the protection or welfare of children.
Section 6. Persons may join with each other and organize freely for any lawful purpose, except in military or quasi-military organizations.
Section 7. The right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of property is recognized as a fundamental right of man. The death penalty shall not exist. No person shall be deprived of his liberty or property without due process of law. No person in Puerto Rico shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No laws impairing the obligation of contracts shall be enacted. A minimum amount of property and possessions shall be exempt from attachment as provided by law.
Section 8. Every person has the right to the protection of law against abusive attacks on his honor, reputation and private or family life.
Section 9. Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use except upon payment of just compensation and in the manner provided by law. No law shall be enacted authorizing condemnation of printing presses, machinery or material devoted to publications of any kind. The buildings in which these objects are located may be condemned only after a judicial finding of public convenience and necessity pursuant to procedure that shall be provided by law,and may be taken before such a judicial finding only when there is placed at the disposition of the publication an adequate site in which it can be installed and continue to operate for a reasonable time.
Section 10. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.
Wire-tapping is prohibited.
No warrant for arrest or search and seizure shall issue except by judicial authority and only upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons to be arrested or the things to be seized.
Evidence obtained in violation of this section shall be inadmissible in the courts.
Section 11. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation and to have a copy thereof, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have assistance of counsel, and to be presumed innocent.
In all prosecutions for a felony the accused shall have the right of trial by an impartial jury composed of twelve residents of the district, who may render their verdict by a majority vote which in no case may be less than nine.
No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself and the failure of the accused to testify may be neither taken into consideration nor commented upon against him.
No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense.
Before conviction every accused shall be entitled to be admitted to bail.
Incarceration prior to trial shall not exceed six months nor shall bail or fines be excessive. No person shall be imprisoned for debt.
Section 12. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist except in the latter case as a punishment for crime after the accused has been duly convicted. Cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted. Suspension of civil rights including the right to vote shall cease upon service of the term of imprisonment imposed.
No ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be passed.
Section 13. The writ of habeas corpus shall be granted without delay and free of costs. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless the public safety requires it in case of rebellion, insurrection or invasion. Only the Legislative Assembly shall have the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and the laws regulating its issuance. The military authority shall always be subordinate to civil authority.
Section 14. No titles of nobility or other hereditary honors shall be granted. No officer or employee of the Commonwealth shall accept gifts,donations, decorations or offices from any foreign country or officer without prior authorization by the Legislative Assembly.
Section 15. The employment of children less than fourteen years of age in any occupation which is prejudicial to their health or morals or which places them in jeopardy of life or limb is prohibited.
No child less than sixteen years of age shall be kept in custody in a jail or penitentiary.
Section 16. The right of every employee to choose his occupation freely and to resign therefrom is recognized, as is his right to equal pay for equal work,to a reasonable minimum salary, to protection against risks to his health or person in his work or employment, and to an ordinary-workday which shall not exceed eight hours. An employee may work in excess of this daily limit only if he is paid extra compensation as provided by law, at a rate never less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.
Section 17. Persons employed by private businesses, enterprises and individual employers and by agencies or instrumentalities of the government operating as private businesses or enterprises, shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers through representatives of their own free choosing in order to promote their welfare.
Section 18. In order to assure their right to organize and to bargain collectively, persons employed by private businesses, enterprises and individual employers and by agencies, enterprises and individual employers and by agencies or instrumentalities of the government operating as private businesses or enterprises, in their direct relations with their own employers shall have the right to strike, to picket and to engage in other legal concerted activities.
Nothing herein contained shall impair the authority of the Legislative Assembly to enact laws to deal with grave emergencies that clearly imperil the public health or safety or essential public services.
Section 19. The foregoing enumeration of rights shall not be construed restrictively nor does it contemplate the exclusion of other rights not specifically mentioned which belong to the people in a democracy. The power of the Legislative Assembly to enact laws for the protection of the life, health and general welfare of the people shall likewise not be construed restrictively.
Section 20. The Commonwealth also recognizes the existence of the following human rights:
The right of every person to receive free elementary and secondary education.
The right of every person to obtain work.
The right of every person to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, and especially to food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
The right of every person to social protection in the event of unemployment, sickness, old age or disability.
The right of motherhood and childhood to special care and assistance.
The rights set forth in this section are closely connected with the progressive development of the economy of the Commonwealth and require, for their full effectiveness, sufficient resources and an agricultural and industrial development not yet attained by the Puerto Rican community.
In the light of their duty to achieve the full liberty of the citizen, the people and the government of Puerto Rico shall do everything in their power to promote the greatest possible expansion of the system of production, to assure the fairest distribution of economic output, and to obtain the maximum understanding between individual initiative and collective cooperation. The executive and judicial branches shall bear in mind this duty and shall construe the laws that tend to fulfill it in the most favorable manner possible.
There is plenty of overlap between the two Bills of Rights. Some differences between the two are obviously consequences of the difference between the 1700s and the 1900s — wiretapping, which is forbidden by Puerto Rico’s Constitution, didn’t exist when the U.S. was making its list of human rights.
When Puerto Rico becomes the 51st State of the Union, the U.S. Bill of Rights will apply to Puerto Rico as it does to the other 50 states.