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National Constitution Center Issues Report

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Dr. Craig is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (nccph.org).



On "Constitution Day" (September 17) a report prepared for the National
Constitution Center found that most Americans do not have detailed
knowledge about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, yet they have absorbed
its core values of protecting the rights of all citizens. The report,
"Knowing It By Heart," also found that nine out of ten Americans also
believe America should be a land where children are taught both the good
and the bad about their history. In addition, the study presents Americans'
collective views on due process, the right to privacy, and racial profiling
in the domestic war on terrorism.

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the study was
conducted by Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization dedicated to
nonpartisan public opinion research, for the National Constitution Center
in Philadelphia. The conclusions of the national survey of 1,520 adults
sharply contrast with several recent studies by conservative-leaning think
tanks. "There's a widespread myth among the nation's intelligentsia that
Americans are ignorant about what the Constitution stands for and would
throw away the Bill of Rights if left to their own devices," said Deborah
Wadsworth, President of Public Agenda. "The truth is most Americans have
absorbed the principle that these rights are essential and have to be
balanced," she stated.

The study found that most Americans understand more about the Constitution
than many give them credit for. Nearly 60 percent of the statistically
representative sample recalled efforts by their secondary school teachers
to instill in them a knowledge of the Constitution. The study found that
while most Americans may have a hazy recall of specific facts, the vast
majority have absorbed the basic principles embodied in that document.
Americans also stated an overwhelming preference to "teach the bad and the
good, warts and all" when it comes to teaching history in middle and high
schools.

There were some interesting findings in the study. For example, there is a
significant contrast between the views held by whites and African
Americans: a majority of Americans -- 65 percent -- believe that citizens
who are rich or powerful have more rights and freedoms than others
do. African Americans, however, are more likely to hold that view (76
percent). Reminded that the Constitution originally held little regard for
African Americans or women,
76 percent of Americans believe the Constitution is still a "great document
that had some blind spots" versus 11 percent who feel it is a
"fundamentally flawed or racist document." African Americans, however, are
three times as likely as white Americans (28 percent versus 8 percent) to
believe it is flawed or racist.

With respect to protection of other rights, 50 percent of Americans believe
it is just as important to protect the rights of the accused as it is to
put the guilty in jail. Another 18 percent state that it is important to
protect the rights of the accused, "even if this means some guilty people
are let go." A total of 65 percent of those polled stated their belief that
their Constitutionally based right to privacy has either been lost or is
under serious threat. However, most Americans view banks and credit card
companies as a bigger threat to their personal privacy than the federal
government.

In addition to posing questions about the Constitution, the study asked
about the views of Americans on contemporary issues of concern. Questions
reflected Americans' collective views on abortion rights, poverty and the
homeless, terrorism, and the responsibilities of citizenship.

A wrap-up conclusion? According to Joseph M. Torsella, President and CEO
of the National Constitution Center, "This survey shows that if the text of
the Constitution is captured imprecisely in people's heads, its principles
and values are alive and well in their hearts."

For the full report (PDF version), tap into:
http://www.publicagenda.org/aboutpa/pdfs/constitution.pdf
For an online summary, tap into:
http://www.publicagenda.org/specials/constitution/constitution.htm


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don kates - 9/21/2002

The author mysteriously asserts that the original Constitution (and the Bill of Rights?) had "little regard for women," or for blacks/slaves. The latter is certainly true as indicated by the provision allowing the slave states to count part of their slave population as part of the basis of their population for purposes of determining the number of House members each state had. But what is the basis of this remark vis-a-vis women. Neither the original Constitution nor the Bill of Rights differentiated men from women in any significant respect. STATE law rendered women incapable of voting, serving on juries or in the militia, and did not protect their property rights. All the Constitution did was leave these matters to state law -- wherefore when Wyoming and other new states in the late 19th Century allowed women to vote, the federal Constitution counted their votes just as men's. And, while the militia contained only men (because of STATE law), the Second and Fifth and Sixth Amendments protected women's rights to own guns and other property no less than men's.