Bill of Rights Day: How It Came to Be

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 15, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

December 15 is recognized as Bill of Rights Day, a time when we reflect on the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791.

The Bill of Rights contains some of our most cherished civil rights and some of the foundations of our legal system, so it only seems right to remember the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution in some fashion.

So how did Bill of Rights Day come to be recognized?

Mid-War Holiday Creation

The Bill of Rights, a convenient term for the collected first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was ratified 223 years ago. However, it wasn't officially recognized as a holiday until 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The holiday wasn't created in response to the loss of life at Pearl Harbor; rather, it was established almost two weeks prior with a presidential proclamation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It's fairly common to have federally recognized holidays created by presidential proclamation (e.g., Father's Day), and FDR had chosen the Bill of Rights' 150th anniversary to proclaim its observance.

It likely seemed poignant to recognize rights like freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and free speech while America was finding itself battling forces of oppression in both Europe and the Pacific.

The Bill of Rights Today

Much like every president from FDR on, President Barack Obama proclaimed on Friday that December 15 was to be observed as Bill of Rights Day. President Obama called upon the nation to "recommit to the values that define us as a people and continue our work to broaden democracy's reach by strengthening the freedoms with which we have been endowed."

There is no exact prescription for how Americans should celebrate Bill of Rights Day -- FDR had only asked that government buildings display the U.S. flag on that day.

Once you've raised a flag, a good way to honor our first 10 Amendments would be to actually read them.

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