An Occasion to Rejoice in the 5 Freedoms
In 2005 the Knight Foundation released the results of a survey it had conducted across the country in 544 high schools with a combined total of over 100,000 students. The survey was an attempt to discover what students understood about the First Amendment. The answer? Not much.
As a result of this survey, Congress passed a law declaring that on September 17 of every year, schools and colleges receiving public funds must teach about the Constitution (the Constitution was adopted on September 17 in 1787).
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could name all of the 5 Freedoms when I went to the Newseum in Washington,
D.C. a couple of years ago. I certainly could by the time we left (and still can). The Newseum is an interactive museum about news, journalism, and the media in general. It’s located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the
White House and Sixth Street, N.W., adjacent to the Smithsonian museums. The exterior of the Newseum features a 74-foot high marble engraving of the First Amendment. We arrived when the building opened and left when it closed, not even stopping for lunch.
Anyway, I was thinking about the 5 Freedoms and how hardly anyone knows what they are as I watched the spreading demonstrations on
Wall Street and Times Square and in other cities across the world. I can’t help thinking that if people understood the 5 Freedoms, they would be exceptionally proud that in this country, people have a right to assemble peacefully.
If people understood the 5 Freedoms, they would be thrilled to watch crowds of people exercise another of our First Amendment freedoms – the right to petition the government. Of course, “thrilled” is theoretical hyperbole. (I remember how “thrilled” by father was when I protested against the war in Viet Nam years ago. He did not see it as an exercise of the 5 Freedoms either.)
Gene Policinski notes in a recent post on his First Amendment Center blog, “Let’s hope everyone keeps in mind the unspoken but eminently valuable safety valve provided by the First Amendment – the right to voice criticisms of those in power, and to assemble peaceable with like-minded people to petition for a ‘redress of grievances.’”
So the Occupy Wall Street movement provides a perfect catalyst to teach kids about the First Amendment just in case your school gave it short shrift last month. And by the way, here are the other three you’ll want to mention: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.