[[S M A R T S]] * What does it say about Americans, that they are more familiar with TV shows such as American Idol and The Simpsons than they are with the freedoms they’ve been guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? At a time when the rights of Americans are under surreptitious attack by the Bush administration and ultraconservative judges, a random poll of 1,000 adults, conducted by Chicago’s soon-to-open McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, found that only 28 percent of respondents could name even one of the five “fundamental freedoms” granted to them under the Bill of Rights. That 214-year-old document comprises 10 amendments spelling out areas of individual behavior that are specifically protected from infringement by the federal government.
The best known of the five First Amendment protections appears to be freedom of speech; 70 percent of those surveyed remembered that one without prompting. However, only a quarter correctly listed freedom of religion, while just 11 percent mentioned freedom of the press, and 10 percent recalled that freedom of assembly was a birthright in the United States. As to the freedom to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”? A not-so-impressive 1 percent of respondents recalled that right. Meanwhile, the poll found that some 10 percent of American adults think the right to “keep and bear arms” (in order to maintain “a well regulated militia”) is a First Amendment freedom, though that’s actually the Second Amendment. And, for reasons beyond understanding, “one in five say the right to own and raise pets and the right to drive a car are First Amendment rights as well,” according to the museum.
Before you conclude that Americans simply have bad memories, note how the McCormick Tribune survey found that “While only one in a thousand were able to name all five freedoms contained in the First Amendment, one out of five Americans can name all five of the Simpsons characters.” Fifty-four percent of respondents could name at least one of the three judges on American Idol. And when presented with five popular advertising slogans, 74 percent of those surveyed could associate the slogan correctly with the product it’s meant to tout.
James Madison must just be rolling over in his grave.