For Immediate Release:
December 12, 2017
The James Madison Institute: Misconceptions About Bill of Rights Remain Common Among Americans
TALLAHASSEE – With Bill of Rights Day approaching, an organization dedicated to the principles laid out in that historic document and named for its author has released the results of a new survey showing significant misunderstanding among the American public about the Bill of Rights and what it does – and does not – protect. Among other key provisions, language protecting the free exercise of religion is largely misinterpreted, even as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a major case that may determine how that right may be applied.
The public opinion survey for the James Madison Institute (JMI), Florida’s premier free-market think tank, found that 80% of Americans are aware that the Bill of Rights is part of the U.S. Constitution rather than some other, less fundamental document. However, fewer than half (45%) were able to correctly state that the Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments, embodying the most basic rights enjoyed by American citizens.
“We should all strive to better understand our nation’s founding documents,” said Dr. Robert McClure, JMI’s President and CEO. “The survey findings show that many Americans are unsure about their individual liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. We owe it to ourselves to become educated about exactly what our rights are and how they affect us in our day-to-day lives as freedom-loving Americans.”
The Bill of Rights was drafted by James Madison and adopted as a group as the first revisions to the U.S. Constitution on December 15, 1791, just four years after the Constitution itself was adopted. The amendments were adopted after several states called for greater protection for individual liberties. Bill of Rights Day will be celebrated this Friday, the 226th anniversary of the adoption of the 10 amendments.
The First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petitioning the government; the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. Modeled after JMI’s “Rank Your Rights” game, when asked if they would opt to keep just one of those two amendments if forced to choose, 82% selected the First Amendment. The question reflected a significant divide between Americans living in rural areas and those living in urban areas. Almost 9 in 10 urban or suburban residents (87%) would choose to keep the First Amendment over the Second Amendment, while just 73% of rural residents would make that same choice. Similarly, 94% of Democrats but just 68% of Republicans would make the same decision.
Specifically regarding the religion clause of the First Amendment, the survey also found that more than 4 in 5 Americans (82%) understand that the government cannot make laws restricting an individual’s right to practice his or her religion – but 3 in 10 mistakenly fail to recognize that “government cannot establish a national religion.” Additionally:
- 44% believe religious beliefs cannot influence public policies or laws. Political leanings influenced responses to this question, with 54% of liberals but just 33% of conservatives adopting this view.
- 1 in 5 believe that “private employers cannot base business practices on religious principals.” Liberals are twice as likely to hold this view compared with conservatives, as 1 in 4 liberals vs. 1 in 8 conservatives believe religious principals cannot influence business practices – the issue at the heart of the pending Supreme Court case over a bakery’s right to deny making a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
- 1 in 7 believe public officials cannot speak about God or religion during public meetings.
The survey was conducted for JMI by Sachs Media Group’s Breakthrough Research division. The survey was conducted December 1-3, 2017, and results reflect 1,175 American adults with an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.9% at the 95% confidence level.
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The James Madison Institute is Florida’s premier free-market think tank. JMI conducts research on such issues as health care, taxes, and regulatory environments. Founded in 1987, JMI is one of the nation’s oldest and largest 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organizations.