America’s forgotten freedoms
The study found that no more than 3% of Americans remember “petition” among the First Amendment’s five basic freedoms.
However, freedom of speech was remembered by the majority of respondents – 56%.
The others freedoms enshrined in the constitution appeared to have made little impression: freedom of religion was named by 15%; the same percentage remembered press freedom as a constitutional right while just 14% knew they had a right to assembly.
The number of respondents who remembered freedom of speech was the lowest in the history of the survey, conducted each year for the past eleven years.
What makes this year’s results more shocking is that 4 out of 10 people questioned could not name any freedom at all.
Whatever freedoms the constitution of the country may guarantee, it does not matter much since these rights are neither remembered nor needed as such.
The findings indicate that modern Americans do not think along the same lines as the Founders of the U.S.
Nowadays, it would seem, many Americans do not consider their basic rights and freedoms inalienable and are ready to delegate them to state or federal officials.
More than two centuries ago it did not take long for the Founders of the United States of America to realize the necessity of preserving individual freedoms in a system of individual states with a strong federal governmental centre.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
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.
In 1791, just four years after the declaration in 1787 of the American Constitution, the states adopted the First Amendment together with the Bill of Rights to guarantee that the strong federal government would not trample on basic individual rights and freedoms.
Moreover, there are rights totally forgotten by the American society, meaning most Americans are not familiar with the freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution.
Freedom of speech and religion are among the first but liberties introduced to the American Constitution by the Bill of Rights. Traditionally, most of the questioned Americans recalled them. But regarding freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and to petition – these seem to be lost in oblivion.
The annual State of the First Amendment survey, held by the First Amendment Center (), questions adult Americans on their attitude towards the rights spelled out in the First Amendment. This year it found the following:
• 39% would extend to subscription cable and satellite television the government’s current authority to regulate content on over-the-air broadcast television.
• 54% would continue IRS regulations that bar religious leaders from openly endorsing political candidates from the pulpit without endangering the tax-exempt status of their organizations.
• 66% say the government should be able to require television broadcasters to offer an equal allotment of time to conservative and liberal broadcasters; 62% would apply that same requirement to newspapers, which never have had content regulated by the government.
• 38% would permit government to require broadcasters to report a specified amount of “positive news” in return for licenses to operate.
• 31% would not permit musicians to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive.
• 68% favor government restrictions on campaign contributions by private companies, and 55% favor such limits on amounts individuals can contribute to someone else’s campaign.
Thus, a large number of Americans concede that in specific cases the federal government can be involved or even control individual freedoms.
The most shocking conclusion of the survey was that most of Americans could not name the five basic freedoms enshrined in the constitution.