Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, which celebrates the day that the 39 delegates signed the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights was ratified four years later in 1791.
It was a big deal for a fledgling nation that had fought for years to escape British rule. It established our three branches of government and later, the rights that have shaped what America is today.
However, it seems that the American public doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the workings of our government.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center found that only 28 percent of Americans could identify the current chief justice of the Supreme Court (hint: it’s John Roberts).
It’s fair to say that the Supreme Court doesn’t receive a lot of media attention unless it has a high-profile case or is appointing a new justice. Yet, the First Amendment Center’s annual State of the First Amendment survey reports that Americans’ basic knowledge of even the First Amendment is at an all-time low.
65 percent of survey respondents could name freedom of speech as a First Amendment right. 28 percent named freedom of religion while only 13 percent were able to name the freedoms of press and assembly.
Immigrants who take the naturalization test are asked ten questions from a list of 100 possible questions and must answer six correctly to pass. These questions include: “Who is the chief justice of the Supreme Court?” and “Name one of the five freedoms of the First Amendment.”
It’s a little embarrassing when Americans can’t name all of the freedoms of one constitutional amendment, yet immigrants who take the civics test to become naturalized citizens understand our government and our freedoms better than we do.
It doesn’t end at basic knowledge of the U.S. government. Voter turnout at general elections have usually been low, with the 2008 election resulting in a 64 percent voter turnout, despite increases among minority voters.
What this shows is that Americans do not know or care to engage in any civic duty, whether its voting or even being aware of whom our Chief Justice is.
When you don’t know your rights and responsibilities, you give others permission to take advantage of you. Celebrate Constitution Day by understanding your government and your role as a U.S. citizen.