A new survey released just ahead of the 230th anniversary of the close of the Constitutional Convention shows that nearly four in 10 Americans cannot name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
The survey, conducted in August by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) and released on Sept. 12, showed 37 percent could not name any of the five rights protected by First Amendment, and only 48 percent could name freedom of speech.
What’s more, the same survey found some 33 percent of Americans were unable to name even one of the three branches of the U.S. government: legislative, executive and judicial.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson said in a news release. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”
The APPC’s survey found that some 53 percent of respondents erroneously believe that illegal immigrants are afforded no protections under the U.S. Constitution, while 15 percent of respondents said atheists did not have all the same rights as other U.S. citizens. Eighteen percent said Muslims do not have all the same rights as other U.S. citizens.
Broken down by political leanings, APPC says conservatives were more “significantly more likely” to correctly answer the branches-of-government question but were also more likely to answer incorrectly questions regarding those whom are afforded constitutional protection.
For example, on the question of whether illegal immigrants lack any constitutional rights, among conservatives “67 percent think it is accurate, compared with 48 percent of moderates and 46 percent of liberals,” APPC said.
The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia concluded on Sept. 17, 1787, and went into effect on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the charter.
It wasn’t until Dec. 15, 1791, however, that the first 10 amendments to the document, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified, the result of significant criticism from detractors of the Constitution that it did not do enough to secure the liberties of the people.
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