Quick, without looking or reading on, how many of the liberties protected by the First Amendment can you name?
If you can name more than one, you're among the elite in constitutional literacy in the United States.
Says the AP:
Americans apparently know more about "The Simpsons" than they do about the First Amendment.
Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey.
The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.
The survey also found that more Americans could name the three "American Idol" judges than could name three rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
These results are amusing, perhaps disappointing, but not terribly surprising. I wonder how many lawyers could name the freedoms beyond speech and religion. And the survey doesn't really tell us much about the state of practical knowledge in the country. My sense is that most Americans know they have some sort of right to speak their minds and that even people who disagree with them do, too. They also probably understand that they and their neighbors can worship God or not, more or less in their own way. Their grasp of the Establishment Clause is probably less firm, but in that they are joined by the Supreme Court. The other three freedoms listed in the First Amendment (press, assembly, and petition) are historically important and could be valuable in theory, but have played little role independent of free speech in the Supreme Court's jurisprudence.
By the way, I count six (not five) freedoms explicitly listed in the First Amendment: no establishment of religion, free exercise, free speech, press, assembly, and petition. If we added the unenumerated freedom of association we'd get to seven. The survey designers lumped the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause together as "freedom of religion," but it seems to me the clauses serve distinct (yet complementary) roles in protecting religious freedom.
There is good news in the survey for advocates of the living Constitution:
About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right, the survey found.
I had thought the constitutional right to own a pet was found in the Ninth Amendment, or perhaps among the transcendental liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Is there a more suitable constitutional home for the right to own a pet?