Survey Taken of First Amendment Knowledge at Rice
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Take a piece of paper, before you read the rest of this article, and write down all five of the freedoms the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees you. Having some trouble coming up with more than one? If you’re unable to think of more than one freedom specified by the First Amendment, you’re in the majority of Americans, but not in the majority of those polled at Rice High School.
More than half the people polled at Rice were able to name three or more freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, which reads as follows: “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.” The five freedoms, in short are 1)speech 2)press 3)religion 4)assembly 5)petition.
Nationally, according to a McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum survey, only 28% of Americans could name more than one right guaranteed by the First Amendment. At Rice almost 89% could name more than one freedom. In fact, among those polled at Rice more than half of the participants of the survey could name more than half of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. The breakdown at Rice is as follows
The vast majority of the students who could not name more than two freedoms usually cited the right to vote as guaranteed by the first amendment. In fact, while we are legally guaranteed the right to vote, citizens of the United States are not guaranteed a Constitutional right to vote. Many congressmen over the past decades proposed amendments which would guarantee citizens the right to vote, but all such measures have failed in the ratification process. The issue with such measures is that they would nationalize voting procedure. As it stands now, the Federal Government is allowed to act in a negative capacity upon the states. They can tell state governments who they are not allowed to deny a vote. However, the reason the right to vote never appears in the Constitution is because the government would then be telling states who they must allow to vote, rather than who they were not allowed to deny votes to.
The mistake of citing the right to vote as a First Amendment freedom was not confined to those who could not name one freedom or could not name more than one, several students submitted answers citing three First Amendment freedoms and additionally the right to vote.
In the most recent State of the Union Address President Obama announced that the government will take new and unprecedented steps to resolve an education crisis which has begun to emerge. Thomas Jefferson’s once said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” He also said, “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government.” However, while the President has made it a priority to educate millions of young Americans, millions more remain uninformed of even their most basic Constitutional rights.