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Speech, Religion, And…?!

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   In elementary school, it’s a given that all students learn about the shaping of our nation and study monumental documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. However, a recent poll taken across the United States raised eyebrows when it was revealed that citizens had little to no knowledge of the freedoms they inherited under the protection of the Constitution, namely the five freedoms of the first amendment. In a 2016 survey conducted by the Newseum Institute it was unveiled that 39% of Americans can’t name a single freedom guaranteed by the first amendment – translating to more than 120 million Americans. In the remaining 61%, more than half could name the freedom of speech, while only a meager 2% could name the freedom to petition.

   It’s alarming that even after 230 years since the Constitution was officially signed, so little people could name the freedoms they are protected by. To explore the reason why, one must delve into the political participation in the United States.

   It is a widely known fact that many citizens in the United States are not engaged in politics and policymaking. This includes many  different aspects that all fall under one category – lack of political participation.

   The first aspect is voter turnout. Voter turnout in the past elections – both presidential and congressional – have always been on the low scale. In fact, the percent of voter turnout only increased a mere 1.8% from the 2012 presidential elections to the 2016 presidential election (turnout in 2012 was 58.2%, while turnout in 2016 was 60%). The United States also ranks very low in voter turnout compared to other developed countries. Out of the 35 developed countries listed in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 31st for voter turnout.

   The second aspect includes other types of political participation, including attending rallies and speeches, volunteering for political party, etc. In 2012, it was found that less than half of the population participated in any activity that falls under offline political participation. Furthermore, out of the 60% of Americans that use a social networking site, only 72% participated in any type of political discussion/call to action in 2011. This number may seem like a lot, but the data actually translates to 135 million people who participated politically online, which is only a little more than one third of the population.

   How do these statistics and trends relate to the lack of knowledge of the first amendment? Well, one can rule out schooling as a reason for not knowing the first amendment freedoms because as mentioned above, it’s a significant part of most schools curriculums to go over the Constitutional freedoms. However, the lack of general voting and engagement in politics is very telling. It shows that many people do not care about politics enough to actually get motivated to participate.

   This ignorance can be tied directly to the ignorance of the first amendment freedoms in America. Political agendas mostly encompass issues connected to all five of our first amendment freedoms. Since American citizens do not participate politically often, they forget the ongoing relevance of the freedoms in their lives and take the freedoms for granted.

   And when people take freedoms for granted, they tend to forget about them all together


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The student news site of Oakton High School
Speech, Religion, And…?!