In their 1982 single, The Clash claimed people have three basic rights: 1) the right not to be killed, 2) the right to food money, and 3) the right to free speech.
Those are easy to remember. The Constitution is much more comprehensive and complicated.
Let’s see how you do on a short quiz about the United States’ guiding document:
• Name the guarantees of the First Amendment.
• What are the requirements to run for president of the United States?
• What civil rights protections are recognized under the Fourteenth Amendment?
Constitution Day came and went Sunday. It was preceded Sept. 12 by the release of a depressing University of Pennsylvania study that showed Americans know shockingly little about what the Constitution says, protects, and enshrines.
The 2017 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey sampled 1,013 adults from Aug. 9-13. Among its findings:
• 37 percent of those surveyed were unable to name a single right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Freedom of speech was the most frequently identified (48 percent) while only 15 percent could recall religious protections and 14 percent could remember the press is protected from government interference; a tiny three percent remembered they are able to ask their officials to change policies.
• Just 26 percent of Americans can correctly identify the executive legislative, and judicial branches of government. A full third said they didn’t know any of the branches.
• 53 percent of Americans incorrectly think undocumented immigrants do not have any rights under the Constitution, when in fact everyone in the U.S. is entitled to due process, for example.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.
In the past year, politics have become much more a part of everyday conversation. I wouldn’t have to listen hard to hear opinions — blue collar and white collar, educated and uneducated, black and white, male and female, Republican and Democrat, young and old — about turmoil in Washington.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on health care, on gay rights, on Dreamers, on the deficit ceiling, on Russia, on North Korean ICBM tests, on veterans benefits, on building a border wall.
But how can we trust any of those opinions in a vacuum of general knowledge about how our country is run? It’s like asking someone for their opinion on the benefits of positraction, only to discover they failed the driver’s license test. It’s like ordering the consomme only to learn the chef never mastered grilled cheese.
It’s OK to have vastly differing views. A Pew Research survey out earlier this month showered partisan views of college professors, police officers, teachers, and military personnel are widening and becoming more entrenched.
What’s not OK is to shout out your uninformed views. Too many people are willing to scream their thoughts without having the entry-level knowledge first.
You aren’t expected to know everything. I do not have the Constitution memorized. I work every day with important parts of the Ohio Revised Code and I don’t have that memorized either.
I’m not talking about knowing every fact. I’m talking about the responsibility that demands taking the time to learn about a topic before entering the fray.
Read. Debate. Ask. Learn. Study. Think. These actions are part of the responsibility that complements freedom.