What Are Third Amendment Rights?
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.
Of the 10 amendments collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights, the Third Amendment appears the least likely to have any relevance or application to personal rights and freedoms in modern America. Unless you have a family member serving in the military who is home on leave, chances are you have never had a soldier knocking at your door asking to spend a week or two living in your home. To get a better understanding of the purpose behind inclusion of the Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights, you have to go back to pre-Revolutionary War America.
Background and historical perspective
As a result its participation in the French and Indian War in North America, the British government found itself with a large contingent of troops in the colonies in the latter part of the 18th century. England passed legislation imposing upon residents of the American colonies the obligation to provide housing to British soldiers when there was not enough room to house them in barracks.
The colonists objected to housing and feeding the soldiers used by the British government to impose its will on them. Violent confrontations between the British army and protesters in Boston led to the inclusion in the Declaration of Independence of a statement objecting to the quartering of troops in private residences. Following the Revolutionary War, similar language eventually found its way into state constitutions and into the U.S. Constitution when the Third Amendment was ratified by the states in 1791.
Significance of the amendment today
Americans have not been asked to quarter troops on their property since the Civil War, but the Third Amendment has a broader application. The amendment has come to stand for the protection of an individual's right to privacy and of the right of property owners to determine how their property may be used.
Modern application of the Third Amendment
Although the Supreme Court has never issued a decision interpreting the language of the Third Amendment, it has addressed how it applies to the issue of privacy. You might not associate a constitutional amendment dealing with the quartering of soldiers on private property with birth control and the right to privacy, but the Court used it to support its ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965.
The Griswold case dealt with the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives. Griswold was prosecuted for proving assistance and advice about birth control to individuals and couples. The Supreme Court declared the law to violate the privacy rights afforded people under the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Amendments.
The Third Amendment was in the news a few years ago in a lawsuit for damages filed by couple claiming police officers violated their rights by occupying part of their home for surveillance of criminal activity at a neighbor's home. The couple claimed the presence of the police in their home was comparable to quartering of soldiers.
A federal court refused to place police officers into the same category as soldiers and classify what happened as quartering soldiers. The Third Amendment appears, at least for the moment, to continue having limited modern-day relevance.