Americans Short on Facts

Monday, September 15, 2008

Most Americans don't know much about the Constitution:

28 percent know more than one of the five fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment: the freedoms of religion and speech; of the press; to assemble peaceably; and to petition for redress of grievances.

1 in 1,000 can name all five.

20 percent think the First Amendment guarantees the right to own a pet.

But: 52 percent of Americans can name at least two main characters in "The Simpsons" television show, and 22 percent can name all five (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie).

SOURCE: 2006 survey by the nonprofit McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago

Justice Breyer Provides A View From the Court

Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer agreed to answer some questions for Constitution Day.

Q) Surveys frequently show few Americans have even a basic understanding of the Constitution. Why do you think that is?

A) One reason is that civics is no longer a required course in many high schools. That is a pity.

Q) At what age should kids start learning about the Constitution? Is the Constitution a difficult subject?

A) Age 8. No, the Constitution is not a difficult subject to teach.

Q) What rights does the Constitution provide to teachers in schools regarding free speech? How does this differ from the rights provided to students?

A) It's complicated. Citizens can speak freely; so can teachers; so can students. But not everyone can speak at once. Moreover, teachers must teach, and students are there to learn. The Constitution works all this out. So, kids, you are free to think for yourselves, but please remember to listen to the teacher.

Q) How can a public school teach the Bible without violating the Constitution?

A) To teach about religion (e.g., history, comparative religion) is fine; to practice religion is not.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company