BY A GUEST BLOGGER — Can you name the three branches of government? How about the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment? How about one of them? Such basic information should be a no-brainer for any U.S. citizen, right?
Yet the latest annual survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that only 26 percent of respondents could name the three branches of government and 37 percent of them couldn’t name even one of the First Amendment rights. What do you bet the percentages would be higher if these same people were asked to name the Kardashians? This is shameful and dangerous.
But it gets worse.
“It’s a free country,” we say flippantly when challenged about something we say or do. It’s practically our national tagline. We take it for granted like it’s divinely bestowed, self-perpetuating, and immune from abrogation. Think again.
That freedom rests squarely on the First Amendment, a pillar of our democracy. A recent Washington Post piece cited results from several recent surveys that should make us all take notice. Here are a few of them:
39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval. (Annenberg survey) Think of the Pentagon Papers and what they revealed about our government’s activities during the Vietnam War. How many more would have died in a war our leaders knew was unwinnable had those documents not been published by a free press?
23 percent think the First Amendment “goes too far”, and 74 percent do not think “fake news” should be protected by the First Amendment. (a national survey by the Newseum Institute). Who gets to decide what is “fake news”? Surely not President Trump, who routinely labels as “fake news” anything he doesn’t like even when it’s supported by factual evidence.
43 percent said colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers. (Newseum) What happened to the idea that college meant being exposed to divergent ideas and thinking your way through them?
Only 59 percent believe religious freedom should apply to all religious groups. (Newseum) Even more astounding, the percentage fell to 49 percent among those aged 18-29. Just which believers won’t make the cut?
40 percent of Americans think government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech (a poll conducted by YouGov for the Cato Institute) Will the Speech Patrol duct tape offenders’ mouths?
A writer for the Atlantic did his own survey and found that 46 percent of respondents would support a law making it illegal to say offensive things about African-Americans; 41 percent for Jews, 40 percent for immigrants and military service members, 39 percent for Hispanics, 37 percent for Muslims, 36 percent for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, 35 percent for Christians. What about atheists, agnostics, Pacific Islanders, and nerds? Are they fair game?
In the same survey, 51 percent of Democrats would favor a law ‘requiring people to refer to a transgender person by their preferred gender pronouns and not according to their biological sex.” 72 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats believe that burning or desecrating the American flag should be illegal, and 53 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Latinos favor ‘stripping a person of their U.S. citizenship if they burn the American flag’. No word on whether American flag bikini underwear should be illegal. Maybe if it’s worn by a believer from an unprotected religious persuasion who says something nasty.
Don’t look to the young for more tolerance. In an online survey of 1,500 undergraduates conducted by a Brookings senior fellow, 62 percent believed that if an on-campus organization hosted an “offensive” speaker, it is legally required to ensure there is also a speaker to present an opposing viewpoint. Guess the undergrads can’t be expected to come up with an opposing viewpoint on their own. Even more astounding, 19 percent said it’s acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent a guest speaker it opposes from appearing on campus. This is what happens when civics isn’t part of a core curriculum.
If these survey results are to be believed, we’re well on the way to an authoritarian society where free expression is squelched, information is controlled, and nothing contrary to the prevailing views is permitted.
Let’s pray it’s just fake news.
Cecelia Blalock is a business freelance writer who has written hundreds of articles covering key
business and governmental issues over the past 30 years. She is based in Savage, MD.