A shoe company recently commissioned a survey about the First Amendment in which 2,000 adults participated. The survey focused on respondents’ attitudes and knowledge about our first freedoms. According to the survey, “[n]early 6 in 10 Americans believe the First Amendment is under threat.” The study said people cited the “bias in the media and the rise of fake news.” More interestingly, it tested their knowledge. Many thought that the First Amendment protected life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness:

  • Life: “3 percent named ‘life’ as one of the protected freedoms.”
  • Liberty: “[H]alf thought that ‘liberty’ is one of the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”
  • Pursuit of happiness: “(49 percent) believed ‘the pursuit of happiness’ was included.”

These are actually in the Declaration of Independence. While it is a powerful statement by the Founders about our unalienable rights (rights that no government can give or take away), the Declaration of Independence lacks the immediate legal force the Constitution possesses. In other words, you can’t sue someone for violating the Declaration of Independence.

The Bill of Rights, on the other hand, has legal force. So, if the government has violated the First Amendment in some way, there is legal recourse. Here is what the First Amendment protects:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Presented another way, the First Amendment protects against:

  • the establishment of religion, or
  • a prohibition on the free exercise of religion, or
  • an abridgment of
    • the freedom of speech or the press, or
    • the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

If you’re wondering why a shoe company commissioned such a survey, we can’t really answer that without advertising for their new marketing campaign. For now, we can be thankful that it has exposed this deficit in constitutional knowledge and for the opportunity to once again highlight just how important the First Amendment is!