Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our Democracy in Trouble, Part 2

It is one thing to be ignorant about the facts that are impacting our lives and values as citizens of the United States; some misinformation is probably unavoidable, although the extent of our lack of understanding of important facts implies some willful ignorance is part of the mix.

And it is also understandable that after a lifetime of being taught that faith (defined as belief without justifying evidence) is a virtue, that many do not value reason as a way of understanding the universe.

But how charitable can one be when assessing the results of a poll by the First Amendment Center, a non-partisan educational group?

Here’s a brief summary of what they found:

·         Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2007” national survey released Sept. 11 by the First Amendment Center…

·         Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000…

·         34% (lowest since the survey first was done in 1997) think the press “has too much freedom,” but 60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias, and 62% believe the making up of stories is a widespread problem in the news media — down only slightly from 2006…

·         25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006…

·         Just 74% said it was essential to have “the right to practice the religion of your choice,” down from 81% in 1997 and 83% in 2002.  The right to “speak freely about whatever you want” saw a similar drop, to 66% from 72% 10 years ago and 75% five years ago.

·         58% want teacher-led prayers in schools…

·         43% endorse school holiday programs that are entirely Christian and devotional…

·         50% would allow public school teachers to teach the Bible as a “factual text” in history classes…

·          The right to practice one’s own religion was deemed “essential” or “important” by nearly all Americans (97%); as was the right to “speak freely about whatever you want” (98%) and to “assemble, march, protest or petition the government (94%).”  Still, Americans are hard pressed to name the five freedoms included in the First Amendment… Speech is the only one named by a majority of respondents (64%), followed by religion (19%), press and assembly (each 16%) and petition (3%)… (End of poll results.  Go to .)

Can you imagine that 65% of Americans actually believe that (without even a mention of Christianity or Jesus) the Constitution establishes the US as a Christian Nation?  If you subtract the non-Christians from the population and assume that they are not quite as deluded, it might be fair to say that 70% or more of the Christians in this country think that the Constitution actually somehow, somewhere, establishes a “Christian” nation, whatever that means and whatever that implies legally.

65% to 70%!

Imagine the other contradictions in the opinions of the American Public: they believe that freedom of speech is important but that the “Press” has “too much freedom.”  Exactly how distinct from free speech is a free press?  They want “freedom” of religion for themselves (97%), but not so much for others (56%)!

And of course, the most frightening finding of all: 25% think the First Amendment, about which they are clueless, “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”

This is not a matter of ignorance: in the poll they are given the actual wording of the First Amendment and asked the question, “Based on your own feelings about the First Amendment, please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”

I guarantee I know what the problem is for this 25%: they have no problems with their own rights of freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly and petition; their problem is with YOUR rights.

Oh yeah, don’t forget that typically our elected officials are chosen by 25% of the voting public since only half of us vote.

Our democracy is in trouble.


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