Students know about Simpsons, Three Stooges, but not their rights

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Cartoon by Dan Cordero

Cartoon by Dan Cordero

Curly, Larry and Moe are gone but not forgotten. Our three branches of government, unfortunately, have been.

Only one out of l,000 young respondents, in a McCormick Tribune survey, could name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 22 percent could name all five of The Simpsons.

This may not be a sign of the Apocalypse, but the five horsemen can be heard galloping in the distance. America’s lack of understanding over its own system of government is sad. Its lack of knowledge regarding civil rights is scary.

Our Constitution provides rights to U.S. citizens and regulates the activities of government. America’s founders consciously aimed to prevent future ruling classes from establishing abusive totalitarian regimes.

It may not be working. Prompted by the attack of September 11, 2001, government-fueled hype over national security has given rise to tangible examples of totalitarian militarization. America was founded as a beacon of liberty and freedom, but its becoming as a fortress.

The annually-reviewed National Defense Authorization Act, a collection of civil rights infringements, has been approved by the House of Representatives for 2015 and is up for reapproval by the Senate. This bill allocates billions of dollars for “national security” purposes. It also allows America’s military to indefinitely detain any person considered a possible terror suspect. It sweeps aside Constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure, due process, a speedy public trial and protections against cruel or unusual punishment.

Ferguson, Missouri serves as an example of recent authoritarian abuses. Martial law has been put into full effect in civilian areas. Speech is being censored, the press is being oppressed and, in the meantime, police armed with military-grade riot gear are conducting mass protester arrests. Ferguson police are acting as if the First Amendment does not exist. Guaranteed rights like freedom of speech, protections for the press, freedom to peacefully assemble and the right to petition against the government are being blatantly disregarded.

Corporations are working with those in power and supporting the pepper spray showers. Communication giants like Verizon and AT&T are working with arms of the U.S. government, like the National Security Agency, to conduct illegal surveillance projects under the guise of national security.  They seem more concerned with corporate profits than protecting Americans’ rights.

Americans should not submit to these abuses. Day-by-day the situation is worsening. People are especially vulnerable to civil rights abuses when they do not know their rights.

A 2010 survey by The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution reported that 84 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 lacked an adequate understanding of the Constitution. Only 28 percent had read through the document. Most Americans take basic courses on American history and government in high school, suggesting that the education system is failing to emphasize the importance of civil rights.

It is not too late though. People can learn about their civil rights via a simple web search. Wikipedia is better than nothing.

Knowledge is power. Citizens have a responsibility to spread knowledge. Students should go about informing themselves about their civil liberties. The collective future of America, and the world, depends on it.

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