“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
Since the time of our nation’s founding, Americans’ homes have been their most important physical possession. The colonists took to heart eighteenth century British Prime Minister William Pitt’s sentiment: “Every man’s home is his castle.” The Third Amendment addressed the Framers’ particular grievance with the Quartering Act of 1774, a policy that forced the colonists to provide accommodations for British troops in their homes at night, while these same soldiers terrorized their towns by day. This constant invasion of the colonists’ privacy by the British soldiers was condemned in the Declaration of Independence and was ultimately outlawed by the Third Amendment.
America was born during a time of martial law. Government troops stationed themselves in homes and trespassed on property without regard for the rights of owners.
People often question whether the Third Amendment is germane to our lives today. Although it is generally true that Americans’ homes have been safe from soldiers since the Revolutionary War and the military may not threaten private property per se, the Third Amendment is still critically relevant. The right to keep the government out of our homes is an important safeguard against government abuse, and it also reinforces the principle that civilian authority is superior to the military. History clearly shows that citizens of martial states and of military dictatorships are rarely free. Subordinating the military to elected leaders is vital to a democracy.
We must remember that governments have a tendency to seek more and more control, especially in the wake of catastrophes and natural disasters. Many see the federal government’s response to tragic events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina as evidence that the United States is approaching a police state that wouldn’t hesitate to declare martial law. With the increased military presence, we must be particularly vigilant about protecting the rights afforded by the Third Amendment, as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights.
The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen's home without "the consent of the owner." Today's military may not as of yet technically threaten private property. However, with the police increasingly posing as military forces--complete with weapons, uniforms, assault vehicles, etc.--a good case could be made for the fact that SWAT team raids, which break down the barrier between public and private property, have done away with this critical safeguard. Indeed, the increasing militarization of the police, the use of sophisticated weaponry against Americans and the government's increasing tendency to employ military personnel domestically have eviscerated the Third Amendment. At all levels (federal, local and state), through the use of fusion centers, information sharing with the national intelligence agencies, and monetary grants for weapons and training from the Pentagon, the local police and the military have for all intents and purposes joined forces. In the process, the police have become a "standing" or permanent army, one composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband, which is exactly what the Founders feared.