Today, hopefully many Americans are celebrating the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution. On September 17th, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed off on the document in Philadelphia, paving the way for our nation to live under the greatest political document ever written.
However, many Americans know very little about the document that has been the law of the land for over two centuries. While recent polling confirms that general lack of knowledge, more troubling signs are emerging that the problem is becoming even worse. In fact, knowledge of the Constitution has been in a shockingly steady decline over the last few years.
Every year, the Annenberg Public Policy Center does a Constitution Day Civics Survey. The results of this year’s survey of 1,013 adults in the U.S. were particularly grim:
> More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, and another 8 percent attempted to name one but were wrong. That means 45 percent could not correctly name any rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. Nearly half.
> Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.
Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government.
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 right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Contrary to the First Amendment, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval. That was essentially unchanged from last year. But the survey, which followed a year of attacks on the news media, found less opposition to prior restraint (49 percent) than in 2016 (55 percent).
Only 26 percent of respondents can name the three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), the same result as last year. In the presence of controls, people who identified themselves as conservatives were significantly more likely to name all three branches correctly than liberals and moderates.
In a blinding flash of the obvious, the APPC concludes: “Americans are poorly informed about basic constitutional provisions.”
With numbers like this, is it any wonder such large portions of the American population are hostile to freedoms like speech and religion? For many, the reality that these liberties are protected by law would come as a complete shock to them.
Clearly, America’s educational institutions need to do a better job of teaching the basics of American law. If they don’t, the very liberties we celebrate on this day will be in grave danger for years to come.
H/T Daily Wire
[Note: This post was authored by Michael Lee. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee]