Do you know what is in the First Amendment?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — Can you name the five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

If you are like the vast majority of Americans, the answer is no.

You might name freedom of speech and freedom of religion or — The Democrat news staff sincerely hopes — freedom of the press.

Today, as we celebrate our country’s 234th birthday, surveys indicate 96 percent of Americans cannot name the five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment.

For the record, the five freedoms are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Statistics in the Miss-Lou are no better than the national average. Of 100 people randomly surveyed by The Democrat last week, only four named all five rights — a long-time Copiah-Lincoln Community College employee, an elected official, a 13-year-old and just a regular Joe.

Of those who couldn’t name all five were educators, coaches, businessmen and more.

Michael Freeman of Vidalia correctly listed freedom of speech and the right to assemble, but added a few other American rights to the First Amendment — the right to bear arms, which is the Second Amendment, and the pursuit of happiness and justice. Freeman’s answers were echoed across town by many.

“I’m 43 years old,” Freeman said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to think of something like that. We take them for granted. We don’t think about it.”

And even those in the business of government and law enforcement failed to name all five freedoms.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton named two freedoms — religion and speech — before he reluctantly threw in the towel. When informed of all five freedoms, Middleton said freedom of religion is the one he treasures most.

“In some countries, people don’t have the ability to go worship where they want to,” Middleton said. “I’m a Christian; I believe in God and I am a God-fearing man. My religion is part of my every day life. Not everyone is like that, and that’s OK, but it’s important to me.”

Like Middleton, Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell named two freedoms, but a different two — speech and press.

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins named two freedoms — speech and religion.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland named one freedom — speech.

“I’m a history major and I ought to know those, but my mind went blank,” Copeland said.

Copeland, Grennell and Mullins considered freedom of speech to be the most powerful right.

“You should be able to say anything about a government in a democracy,” Mullins said. “Our country was founded on that.”

Copeland said his constituents often exercise their free speech, and he values their opinions.

“All the freedoms are important, but freedom of speech gives you the opportunity to listen to what everyone has to say. To me, that’s very important,” Copeland said.

Grennell found the impromptu crash course on the First Amendment to be refreshing following the supervisors’ special meeting last week. Despite most Americans not being able to recall all five freedoms, Grennell said the First Amendment is widely respected among the citizenry.

“I’m glad you asked me that,” Grennell said. “It helps me to remind myself of (the freedoms).”

So which elected official named all five freedoms?

“There’s freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said while on the road with his family. “Religion …”

Then came a long pause, and a lot of ummmms.

“The freedom to … protest … petition,” Mayfield said hesitantly.

Another pause. And more ummmms.

“Assembly?”

Mayfield briefly celebrated after naming all five freedoms. He too said freedom of speech most affects him.

“The freedom of speech covers the rest of them, I think,” Mayfield said.

“You are free to express religion, to assemble, and that goes back to free speech.”

Though each gave varying answers, the politicians polled agreed on one answer to a separate question. What if the First Amendment didn’t exist?

Their answer was one, simple word — chaos.