Don’t Let the Media Make You Feel Dumb about the Constitution

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You’ve seen the “man on the street” interview designed to make Americans look like absolute idiots?  In that same vein, a new poll was released that makes it seem like everyday citizens know very little about the Constitution.  The survey found 37% of Americans couldn’t name any specific right guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Here are three more findings:

* Only one in four (26%) can name all three branches of the government. (In 2011, 38% could name all three branches.)

* One in three (33%) can’t name any branch of government. None. Not even one.

* A majority (53%) believe the Constitution affords undocumented immigrants no rights. However, everyone in the US is entitled to due process of law and the right to make their case before the courts, at the least.

I’ll admit that I find these numbers distressing — if Americans don’t know their rights, we won’t exercise them.  However, my friend Scott Rasmussen had a great take on these numbers:

Data like this is often used in a condescending way to denigrate the American people. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the group that conducted the survey, raised the alarm by saying that “protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are.” Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard wrote, “We have squandered the greatest civic legacy in the history of the world.”

However, the data itself tells a different story. The question asked by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was this: “What are the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment?” Nearly half (48%) correctly named the freedom of speech. Smaller numbers correctly identified the freedom of religion, the freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government.

A few incorrectly guessed the right to bear arms or “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those are important parts of our civic heritage, but they’re not written in the First Amendment.

All this survey data tells us is that roughly a third of the people didn’t know certain rights were specifically mentioned in the First Amendment. But there is a huge difference between knowledge of which passage mentions which freedoms and knowing that we have certain rights. For example, just about every American knows we have freedom of speech even if only 48% know where it was written in our founding documents.

Precisely.  Don’t let liberal reporters and the media make you feel like you don’t know about this nation.  Regular Americans are the life blood of this nation.  As Scott wrote, “the unifying force in our nation is the American Creed. It’s a belief that we all have the right to live our own lives as we see fit so long as we respect the rights of others to do the same.”

Image Credit: M M on Flickr

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