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State Constitution Is Also Provider of Personal Rights

April 15, 1993|JEFFREY S. KLEIN and LOUIS M. BROWN | Klein is an attorney and president of The Times Valley and Ventura County editions. Brown is professor of law emeritus at USC and chairman of the board for the National Center for Preventive Law

You'll often hear commentators, lawyers or journalists talking about protecting your constitutional rights. But what are your constitutional rights, anyway?

Most people understand that the U.S. Constitution is at the core of the rights we enjoy in this country. Many of the fundamental rights--free speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms--arise from the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

But what some people forget is that one's constitutional rights do not arise only from the U.S. Constitution. Each state has its own constitution and, especially in recent years, a new body of law has emerged based on states' constitutions.

The California Supreme Court has often interpreted the state Constitution to provide broader protection for personal rights than the Bill of Rights.

Let's compare one well-known provision of the federal document, the First Amendment, to its counterpart in California's Constitution.

The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances."

In California's Constitution, you have to look in many places to find those same rights, but they are there.

Section One provides that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting private property and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness and privacy."

This statement covers more territory than the language of the First Amendment. And California court cases have interpreted it more broadly than some federal decisions. For example, the right to privacy has been explicitly incorporated into the California Constitution, but it is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

On freedom of speech and the press, the state Constitution provides: "Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press." Also, there is a specific provision protecting news reporters who refuse to disclose the sources of their information.

On religious freedom, the state Constitution says: "Free exercise of enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference is guaranteed. This liberty of conscience does not excuse acts that are licentious or inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state. The legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

This point of today's lesson in constitutional law is that there are two very important sources of our rights and freedoms: One is found in Washington and the other here in California.

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