By a Show of Hands, Who Cares About the First Amendment?


Seventeen percent of Americans think the First Amendment guarantees them the right to drive a car. I'm not kidding about this. Last week, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum announced the results of a survey of 1,000 Americans, which suggested our country is more familiar with Simpsons characters, commercial slogans, and the judges from American Idol than with the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment (i.e., religion, speech, the press, assembly, and redress of grievances' though if I need to list them, you're sort of proving the point). Only 28 percent of those surveyed could name more than one of these freedoms. And a mere one respondent was able to name all five. Meanwhile, 21 percent thought the First Amendment guaranteed them the right to own and raise pets (which defies explanation). And 17 percent thought it guaranteed them the right to drive a car (which is remarkable, since driving is a privilege'not a right). Now, I'll admit it. When I first heard about this survey, I immediately found myself thinking, 'God' Americans are stupid.' (Actually, I immediately found myself counting my fingers, making sure I could name all five First Amendment freedoms. Then I found myself thinking, 'God' Americans are stupid.") But the more I think about this, the more I think, God, maybe this doesn't really mean anything. I mean, think about it: As easy as it would be to bash Americans for the fat, lazy carelessness with which they've approached this, the most sacred of First Amendments'maybe they're on to something here. Maybe it doesn't make a difference whether they know what's protected by the First Amendment. Maybe they don't want those things to be protected in the first place. In fact, maybe we don't even need a First Amendment at all. Just think about the terminology I'm using here. What's this 'we' stuff? I think the First Amendment's important, sure. But does that mean the rest of the country needs to think it's important also? Wouldn't that be hypocritical of me? Wouldn't that just equate to me imposing my viewpoint on my countrymen? Maybe there's a reason why American Idol is more popular than the lynchpin of American freedoms. Maybe it's because that lynchpin is quite simply losing in the marketplace of ideas. I can't blame Americans for this. If anything, I probably ought to respect them for it. They've made up their minds about their priorities. It's my own fault for disagreeing with them. I think it's time to face the basic facts of the matter here: The First Amendment doesn't exist to protect average Americans. It exists to protect people like me, Jonathan David Morris'semi-literate op-ed columnist. That's the only way to explain why Americans don't care one way or another whether it erodes. This country has been trying to silence me for years now. The faster the First Amendment disappears from existence, the quicker I'll shut the hell up. Most of the speech that Americans partake in isn't covered by the First Amendment. In fact, most of the speech we partake in falls subject to everyday checks and balances'little things that help keep us in line. In our professional lives, for instance, we can say whatever we want to say. And our bosses can promptly fire us for it. And in our personal lives, we self-regulate free expression (or have our spouses do it for us) in the name of self-preservation and social survival. This is called 'getting along with others.' So, really, the only sphere of discourse that the First Amendment's concerned with is political speech. And for most of us, that's meaningless. It only matters to people like me, who constantly, publicly complain about everything. That said, I can see why most Americans don't really care about it. Because most Americans don't like me. Hell, I don't like me, either. I suck as a person. I wish I would stop talking now. I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe I would be if I understood what that expression even meant. But I don't. So I'm not going to do it. If Americans want to hold on to the First Amendment, I'm not going to complain about it. In fact, I'll be quite happy to continue hiding behind it. However, if Americans can't be bothered to so much as know about this thing, then maybe it's time to get rid of it. It's only taking up valuable space in the national archives. So I say go for it. Delete it. If that's what you want, America, don't keep it around for my sake. I'm going to say what I want to say anyway'with or without permission from the federal government. Maybe without the First Amendment, elitists like those at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum'who no one's ever heard of anyway'will stop guilting you into knowing about the freedoms your forefathers left you. And maybe then you can enjoy some peace and quiet around here. Because, really, isn't that the kind of freedom you want? Now, in closing, here's a list of five mildly gratuitous statements: 1. Betty White was the hottest Golden Girl. 2. Judaism is a Jewish conspiracy. 3. Dick Cheney doesn't brake for animals. 4. Flag burning is fine, as long as you own the flag. 5. Black people.

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Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics and personal freedoms.  His website is