How do we protect unknown freedoms?

Published 12:17 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

Former U.S. President James Madison, George Mason and the other founding fathers who drafted the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are probably rolling over in their graves right about now.

“Freedom” has become the ultimate buzzword, especially in this hot political year. Sadly, it appears that many Americans don’t mind sacrificing some of the freedoms our forefathers fought for — in part because the average citizen may not even know what those freedoms are.

Here’s a pop quiz for you: What are the five fundamental freedoms we enjoy as Americans? Sounds like an easy question, right? Not so much.

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In recognition of last week’s Constitution Day, the First Amendment Center released the 2008 State of the First Amendment survey that posed this question and others.

The nationwide survey asked adults specific situational questions about freedom of expression, a free press, religious rights and the other freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.

Once again, the results are shocking, maybe more so than any year in the past.

“The survey found again this year that just 3 percent of those questioned could name ‘petition’ as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment. Only ‘speech’ was named by a majority of respondents, 56 percent,” wrote Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “Less than 20 percent named religion (15 percent), press (15 percent) or assembly (14 percent). The number for speech is the lowest in the 11-year history of the survey. As troubling: 4 in 10 could not name any freedom – the highest such result in the survey’s history.”

Just as concerning, at least to me, is the lack of understanding how a free press — and a government-free media in general — is vital to democracy.

The survey revealed that 66 percent believe the government should be able to require television broadcasters to offer an equal allotment of time to conservative and liberal broadcasters. Sixty two percent would apply that same requirement to newspapers.

What about free press? So we want the government controlling the information we receive? Ring up Big Brother and tell George Orwell he wasn’t far off.

The survey also showed that 38 percent of respondents want the government to require broadcasters to report a pre-determined amount of positive news to be allowed to stay on the air.

Are they serious? So more than one third of those surveyed would rather sacrifice the truth for a watered-down picture of life in America? No thanks.

The results show that 55 percent believe the U.S. Constitution established a Christian nation.

I guess freedom of religion only counts if it is the religion that the masses practice. Maybe they have forgotten that having the freedom to not practice the mandated religion is one of the reasons our forefathers got on a boat to come over here.

Nearly one third of those asked — 31 percent — said they would ban song lyrics that others might find offensive.

Who gets to define offensive? You? Me? Uncle Sam?

Those interested can see the whole study at

Maybe its time for us to re-evaluate how and what we teach our youth. If not, we will become a nation that doesn’t even know the importance of what we have lost — until it is too late.