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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Freedom of ... um ... uh ...

Happy Constitution Day! How many First Amendment freedoms can you name? If you get more than one, you're a civics star.

Americans' civics knowledge is poor and getting worse, concludes the Annenberg Public Policy Center's annual Constitution Day Civics Survey.

While 63 percent of those surveyed know the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, most are fuzzy about freedom of religion (24 percent), freedom of the press (20 percent), right of assembly (16 percent) and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances (6 percent).

(I remember memorizing the First Amendment protections for a test in eighth grade. We also had to write the Preamble, with correct punctuation, to get our junior high diploma.)

However, 78 percent know they're protected from "unreasonable searches and seizures," perhaps due to TV cop shows. Furthermore, 76 percent know Congress can't establish an official U.S. religion.

Less than half could name all three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Many were confused about the Supreme Court's role.

Asked who has final responsibility for determining whether an act by the president is constitutional if the president and the Supreme Court disagree – the president, Congress, or the court – less than half of Americans (46%) correctly said the Supreme Court, statistically unchanged from 2020 and 2021 (51%) but down significantly from 2019 (61%).
Asked what it means when the Supreme Court rules 5-4 in a case, just over half (55%) correctly chose “the decision is the law and needs to be followed,” down significantly from 61% in 2021. Others surveyed incorrectly said “the decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration” (16%), “the decision is sent back to the federal court of appeals to be decided there” (16%), or they don’t know (13%).

Seventy-three percent know the president can't ignore a Supreme Court ruling that he believes is wrong; 22 percent think he can.

In Education Week, Sarah Schwartz looks at how teachers teach about the Constitution.

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