Study: People know more 'Simpsons' characters than First Amendment rights

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

CHICAGO -- In a contest between Americans' knowledge of "The Simpsons" and what they know about the First Amendment -- Bart and Homer win hands down.

About one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family, according to a survey.

The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

Joe Madeira, director of exhibitions at the museum, said he was surprised by the results.

"Part of the survey really shows there are misconceptions, and part of our mission is to clear up these misconceptions," said Madeira, whose museum will be dedicated to helping visitors understand the First Amendment when it opens in April. "It means we have our job cut out for us."

The survey found that while 69 percent of people could name freedom of speech as a First Amendment right, just under one out of four people could name freedom of religion. Only 11 percent knew freedom of the press, one in 10 could name freedom of assembly and 1 percent named freedom to petition for redress of grievances, the survey found.

The survey found more people could name the three "American Idol" judges than First Amendment rights and were more likely to remember popular advertising slogans.

It also found people misidentified First Amendment rights. About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination -- commonly known as "taking the Fifth" -- was a First Amendment right, the survey found.

The telephone survey of 1,000 random adults was conducted Jan. 20 to 22.

Gene Policinski, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based First Amendment Center, said the results were disconcerting but not surprising.

"It's disappointing that Americans continue to be ignorant of First Amendment freedoms but even more disappointing is that that these freedoms are more and more in the news," Policinski said, citing the protests at soldiers' funerals and the controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoons, which have sparked outrage and violence around the Islamic world after newspapers published them.

Madeira said he hopes the museum will help inform people of their rights and why they are important.

"We always knew there was a need for this type of museum, but when we put our understanding up against some of the icons of popular culture, we really knew that there was a need," he said.

The museum, which is funded by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, is to open April 11 and will be at the Tribune Tower, the home of the Chicago Tribune in downtown Chicago.

The foundation was established in 1955 as a charitable trust in honor of longtime Chicago Tribune editor and publisher, Col. Robert R. McCormick.

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