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Survey: United States Citizens Don't Know Their Basic Constitutional Rights

The Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) announced the results of its latest annual Constitution Day Civics Survey -- how well United States citizens know their Constitutional rights. The latest survey was conducted August 9 to 13 and included 1,013 adults. Main findings:

"1. More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;

2. More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment; and

3. Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government."

About the rights of undocumented immigrants, the incorrect belief is held by more conservatives (67 percent) compared to moderates (48 percent) and liberals (46 percent). The APPC explained:

"In fact, immigrants who are in the United States illegally share some constitutional protections with U.S. citizens. More than a century ago, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), a case involving a Chinese immigrant, the Supreme Court ruled that non-citizens were entitled to due process rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Other cases have expanded upon those rights..."

A tiny bit of good news in the survey results:

"Most respondents, though not all, know that under the Constitution, U.S. citizens who are atheists or Muslim have the same rights as all other citizens. Seventy-nine percent of respondents know it is accurate to say that U.S. citizens who are atheists have the same rights as other citizens, and 76 percent know it is accurate to say that citizens who are Muslim have the same rights as other citizens."

About how well (or not) citizens' know their rights under the First Amendment (bold emphasis added):

"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... 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..."

So, many Americans fail to understand the law of the land -- the U.S. Constitution -- and some naively (or stupidly) support actions to restrict their rights.

Are things getting better or worse? In a 2011 survey by the APPC, barely half of United States citizens (51 percent) knew that a two-thirds majority vote by Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto. In a 2015 survey by the APPC, about one in ten Americans (12 percent) said that the Bill of Rights guarantees pet ownership. It doesn't. A quick comparison across the years:

Survey Result (% of People) 2011 2015 2017
Correctly named all 3 branches of government 38 31 26
Unable to name 1 branch of government 33 32 33

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania said:

"Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome... These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections."

I agree. These results are embarrassing, too. What do you think?

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