State of the First Amendment 2007

A 13-page PDF. I wish I could excerpt some of the tables, but I’d have to do a screengrab, and I can’t be bothered this morning.

In my “News Writing” class the other day, I had the students take out a piece of paper and write down the names of the five family members from The Simpsons. Then I had them write down the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. They groaned, at least some of them in an “I can’t believe we’re so lame!” attitude, rather than an adolescent eye-rolling “Are you serious?” attitude.

“Have I made my point?” I asked. They nodded.

Then I taught them about the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Can you believe that after pollsters read this text to 1003 people, when the poll-takers were asked to respond to “The U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation,” 17% “mildly agree” and 38% “strongly agree”?

Of course, the poll seems designed to solicit such a response. This question doesn’t come right after the pollster read the text aloud, and it’s possible that if you believe that America was de facto a Christian nation, and you believe the Constitution established America as a nation, that you would agree to this statement without actually troubling yourself to notice that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any religion. I also note that the poll does not explain the legal concept of “establishment.”

Other details… in 2007, 56% of respondents said they got most of their news from TV (hmm…. 17 + 38 = 55%… that would explain a lot… but I know it’s not so simple), with 20% saying the newspaper, and %15 the internet. But if I watch video clips and read news stories on the internet, how should I answer?

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