America is having a civics crisis

capitol

Americans have near record low levels of approval for the President and Congress. There are constant marches and protests against various government actions.

It’s a blessing in the United States that we have this right to disagree and speak out against our government. Unfortunately, many Americans do not understand these rights, or the basic facts about the structure of the government.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States is having a civics crisis.

Government Structure

branches of government

In honor of Constitution Day, the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center has conducted its annual civics survey. The results of two questions show a disturbing fact about the understanding of our country’s foundations.

When asked to name the three branches of government, only 26% of Americans know all three branches, and a surprising 1/3 of respondents could not name a single one.

The survey didn’t even ask for a description of the branches, or to explain their roles, simply the name.

This should be alarming during the current state of affairs. Approval levels of the government are so low, yet most people can’t even name the branches of which they disapprove.

Without knowing what the branches of government are, it is impossible to understand their function or roles in our society. The separation of powers, and a system of checks and balances, are essential to our government working properly.

The framers created an inherent conflict between the branches in order to protect us. It prevents one branch of government from becoming too powerful and creating a tyrannical system.

First Amendment

The other question that earned surprisingly bad marks was, “What are the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment?”

first amendment rights

The First Amendment states:

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.

Only 48% of respondents know that the First Amendment gives them the right to free speech. Between 3% and 15% could name freedom of religion, freedom of press, the right to petition, or the right to assemble.

A whopping 37% could not name a single right guaranteed to them by the First Amendment.

 

People are protesting in the streets across the U.S., but many don’t even know why they have the right to do just that.

This does shed some light on the irony of people protesting free speech. It explains why we’ve seen increased calls for silencing controversial speakers, demonizing religious figures, and shutting down controversial media organizations.

It is easy for protesters to call for an end to these rights when they are not the ones affected. However, at any moment they could become the ones being persecuted.

When we don’t understand our rights, or where they come from, we risk losing them.

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