In this essay, we will present a conceptual discussion on two fundamental pillars of US constitution, Majority rules and Minority rights. Knowledge on these concepts is important, because they form an intrinsic component of democratic values that characterize our society. Majority rules as understood from US State Department written policy (2006), would refer to a framework, an organization within the government whose primary task is to decide the roadmap for public issues, based on legislation practices derived from the opinion of a majority electorate, that is why the term “majority”.
It is important to dispel the ambiguity of this term with a different term “majoritarianism”, which invokes images of a unitarian/totalitarian state where the majority of the populace has a privilege over the minorities, who don’t enjoy all privileges; e. g. in Islamic countries, members of other religions have known to be marginalized from communal decision-making processes.
Minority rights, on the other hand, as laid down by the Constitution, as the special provision referring to fundamental rights and privileges, which is based on “ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, etc. enjoyed by minorities, that as per Constitution, no government elected or not, should remove” (US State Department, 2006). On the surface, the concepts of majority rule and minority rights seem contradictory, but they are complementary in many ways.
They are thus, responsible for creating equitable conditions, wherein minorities are able to trust the government to protect their rights, and self-identity, mainly by facilitating the convergence of democratic processes through debate and established protocols, to create a kind of justifiable platform, toward a win-win situation for governing majority opinion, as well as protecting minority rights.
The US constitution recognizes the following principles under the concept of Majority rules and minority rights: “freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion and belief; due process and equal protection under the law; and freedom to organize; speak out; dissent, and participate fully in the public life of society” (US State Department, 2006). Here we discuss two examples. The right to freedom of religion, is guaranteed according to the 1st amendment to the US constitution, its origins lying in the Virginia bill on religious freedom written in 1777 by Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson had proposed a “wall of separation” (Religious Tolerance, 2006) concept, that prevented the legislature from being influenced by the Church, in matters of legislative affairs. Two famous examples that come in picture here: 1)right from the 1770’s, members of different religious affiliations: Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jewish and Atheists have been accepted, and allowed to settle in the US. )Also, when there was a surge in Roman Catholic migration toward a Protestant-majority country in the 1840’s (due to famine in Ireland), the same minority right was upheld to defend their citizenship rights. The right to due process and equal protection under the law, is guaranteed by the US constitution under the 6th (Right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses), 7th (trial by jury in civil cases)and 8th (cruel and unusual punishments) amendments.
They were essentially provided to guarantee that the accused enjoyed the status of being tried by an impartial jury, no matter how serious his crime is. A noted recent instance is the 2001 trial conducted under these provisions, of Moussassoui, a suspected Al-Qaeda operative, who was acquitted after absence of burden of proof against him, and not subjected to the military tribunal set by President Bush, as part of war on terrorism (9/11 commission report, 2004) since he was in the USA at that time, even though he was not US citizen.