Survey reveals many Americans aren’t clear on what’s in the First Amendment

In putting together the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers opted to get the list started with a mention of five rights they deemed essential to a democracy.

Those liberties, often simply referred to as the First Amendment, still hold, but it appears a great number of Americans aren’t sure of what they are. 

In early August, Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) at the University of Pennsylvania asked roughly 1,000 adults in the U.S. the open-ended question, “What are the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment?”

RELATED: A look back at the Founding Fathers

Iconic American figures and founding fathers
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Iconic American figures and founding fathers

14. Betsy Ross - 163 in USA; 17 in Florida 

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13. Thomas Paine - 179 in USA; 20 in California

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12. Alexander Hamilton - 269 in USA; 25 in New York

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11. John Jay - 282 in USA; 38 in Texas

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10. John Witherspoon - 309 in USA; 36 in North Carolina

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9. Benjamin Franklin - 401 in USA; 38 in California

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7. James Madison - 753 in USA; 55 in California

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5. Samuel Adams - 1,100 in USA; 75 in Georgia

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4. George Washington - 1,513 in USA; 133 in Texas

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3. John Hancock - 1,616 in USA; 184 in Texas

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2. Robert Morris - 7,367 in USA; 587 in Florida

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1. John Adams: 9,893 in USA; 789 in Florida

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It reports, "Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights."

"Far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government," APPC notes.

When asked to weigh in on the accuracy of the statement that people living illegally in the U.S. do not have constitutional rights, 53 percent of respondents incorrectly identified it as being true.

"Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the center’s director, commented. "These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections."

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