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ABA’s civic literacy survey yields ‘troubling’ results

John Roberts might need a better press agent.

Less than half of the American public knows Roberts is chief justice of the United States, a position he has held since 2005. The 49 percent of the population in the know contrasts with the 23 percent who think Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leads the Supreme Court and the 16 percent who say Justice Clarence Thomas is at the helm, according to the American Bar Association’s Survey of Civil Literacy.

The ABA found it “troubling” that more than 10 percent of those surveyed identified the Declaration of Independence and not the Emancipation Proclamation as the document that freed slaves in the Confederate states. Eighteen percent erroneously said the Declaration of Independence is another name for the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights.

Respondents were much stronger on the Constitution’s preamble, with nearly 90 percent correctly identifying the first three words as “We the People,” the ABA reported.

Nearly 90 percent know the government does not have the right to review what reporters write before publication, but only 44 percent realize the First Amendment also permits the burning of the American flag in political protest.

The poll of 1,000 people in the United States was conducted between Feb. 20 and March 5 and has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. The ABA released the survey results on Wednesday in honor of Law Day, the annual May 1 celebration. The bar association’s theme this year is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.”

The respondents were strong on governmental structure, with 95 percent correctly naming the Supreme Court as the highest court in the land and 93 percent identifying the House and Senate as the two congressional chambers.

“However, there is confusion over some core democratic principles,” the ABA stated. “For instance, 78 percent correctly know that the term ‘the rule of law’ means no one is above the law, but fully 15 percent believe incorrectly that it means ‘the law is always right.’ The public also demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge about the rights and responsibilities accorded under the Constitution.”

For example, less than 50 percent know that only a U.S. citizen can hold federal elective office and 30 percent incorrectly say that freedom of speech belongs only to U.S. citizens.

Regarding attitudes, the survey found that 60 percent of the respondents strongly agree that people should be able to criticize government leaders publicly and an equivalent percentage strongly disagree with the view that the government should be able to prevent news organizations from reporting on political protests.

For more on the need for civics education, please visit this link.

 

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