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Students acknowledge importance of Constitution’s First Amendment

By Hayley Cox/editor

Most Wayland students believe that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is important, but few can actually say what rights this amendment guarantees.

A recent Trail Blazer survey, conducted during a lunch-hour, asked 70 students if they could name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. A majority said they could, with the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion named consistently.

However, only a few could name all six rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Some students incorrectly included the right to bear arms, which is in the Second Amendment and not the First.

At the other end of the spectrum, 28 students said they could not name any of the rights enumerated in the First amendment. Roughly 10 percent of the 28 were foreign students, while the rest were Americans.

How does this add up?

“It’s a little disappointing, but not surprising,” Dr. Geoffrey Wells, a political science professor at Wayland, said. “Students are probably aware of what the rights are and just don’t realize they’re in the First Amendment.”

In comparison with the rest of the nation, Dr. Wells believed the student body was “doing pretty well” to have half of its students knowing their rights.

A national survey conducted 10 years ago measured American knowledge of the Constitutional system. According to the survey, two in five Americans did not know the three branches of government even exist, let alone what the three branches are — legislative, judicial and executive. Only 19 percent knew when the Constitution was written and only two-thirds knew that the first ten amendments are called The Bill of Rights. Sixteen percent incorrectly believed that the Constitution named Christianity as the national religion. And 24 percent did not know the rights of the First Amendment.

Although a little less than half the surveyed students could not name any rights, an overwhelming majority of the 69 students still believed the First Amendment was important. Six students responded with no opinion and two students believed it was not important.

Dr. Wells also believed that knowing Constitutional rights was important.

“It’s fundamental if citizens are going to be involved in evaluating public policy and be responsible for holding that government accountable for its actions,” he said. “We claim to believe in freedom, and we can’t even name those freedoms.”

If students believe the First Amendment is so important, why don’t more students know their rights? Why don’t more students get involved in politics?

Dr. Wells said getting involved in politics does not have to be hard.

“Have a simple conversation with your friends,” he said. “It isn’t very difficult, and it’s one way to get started. But you should have an intelligent conversation, and that requires being informed, being open-minded and having a critical mind.

“You can’t just repeat a political slogan like a parrot because you heard it from some political party.”

Other ways of getting involved include writing letters to the editor, serving on a jury, blogging, reading newspapers and magazines or working for a campaign. Dr. Wells summed it up.

“Start paying attention,” he said. “People seem to be blithely ignorant of things that are going on.”

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