Tuesday, July 5, 2011

First Amendment quiz

Reading all of the commentaries yesterday about how little Americans appreciate the significance of Independence Day (or the 4th of July, if you're feeling generic) made me wonder how much of that is actually true and how much is cynicism. Do people really not know what yesterday was originally intended to celebrate?

I laughed at more than a few tweets from people saying things like "400 years ago today Jesus, George Washington and Martin Luther King Junior chased the Russians out of America and made this a great nation!" But people not know what the word "independence" is referring to?  You know, the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Being endowed by....something or other with unalienable rights which means we should throw off governmental powers which do not acknowledge and protect those rights, and so on?  Just in case, Ed Brayton explains what the deal is:

It was originally supposed to be written by Benjamin Franklin, the elder statesman of the founding fathers, but he was in ill health and didn't feel he would be able to do undertake the task. It then fell to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, with each arguing that the other should write it. Adams eventually prevailed in the argument and Jefferson was assigned the task of writing the Declaration. 
When he finished the first draft, it was then circulated to three others -- Franklin, Adams and Robert Livingston. Franklin and Adams did most of the editing, suggesting deletions, additions and changes to wording in many places. Then the final draft was prepared and circulated among the whole group for their agreement and their signatures. 
We forget today what a revolutionary document it was. The assertion that each individual had rights that were unalienable and that the principal job of government is to secure those rights had never before been declared so boldly. The fact that the men who ratified that document so often failed to live up to the principles they declared only testifies to how novel those concepts were -- perhaps still are, at least in practice. 
It is to those principles -- liberty, equality, justice -- that I swear allegiance. Not to governments, which so often offer those principles as justification while actively subverting them in any number of ways. Not to a colored piece of cloth. Nearly every political question can -- must -- be answered in reference to those basic principles. The answers aren't always easy, of course, but the questions cannot be correctly analyzed, in my view, except by using those axiomatic reference points.
The ten original amendments that comprised the Bill of Rights were not ratified on that day....not for many more years. But because I firmly believe that the rights described in the First Amendment are unalienable and yet also poorly understood, I think it's fitting to mention this 20 question quiz on it here.  See how you do. If poorly, get to learn something.  If well, it's still good to be reminded of all of protection of freedoms packed into that brief passage.

1 comment:

  1. Well the test didn't give me a final score but I got more right than wrong.