- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

A new citizenship exam. My family and I have studied hard to become citizens, but we worry about this new exam.

Relax, buddy. The government is piloting a new exam with good reason. It requires new citizens to understand what being an American really means to understand what America is really about instead of just memorizing answers.

But my family fully understands and appreciates the meaning of America, sir.

That’s good, because if you want to become a citizen of the U S of A, you better be as knowledgeable about our country as native-born Americans are. There are 144 questions on the pilot exam. The examiner will pick 10 of them, and you must answer six correctly to pass.

Can you help me prepare for these questions, sir?

Sure, buddy. Let’s start with the Declaration of Independence. What is it?

It is an amazing document, sir. Thomas Jefferson wrote to King George III telling him to stuff it. It said all men are created equal, that the power of government comes from the people, that people can change the government if they don’t like it, and that individuals have inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It says all that, buddy? How about that. OK, what are inalienable rights?

America’s Founders believed such rights are given to every individual by the Creator, the Author of all nature. Thomas Jefferson said, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?”

Wow, I didn’t know that. OK, why were the Colonists so upset with the Brits that they declared independence?

This was because of the Stamp Act, high taxes imposed on every piece of paper they used. This “taxation without representation” infuriated the Colonists. They were also tired of the British army staying in their homes and committing intolerable acts.

Really? I didn’t know that, either, buddy. OK, then, what was the Constitutional Convention?

Sir, this took place in Philadelphia, Pa. during the summer of 1787. It was very hot, but this did not prevent 55 delegates from 13 Colonies from debating and drafting the U.S. Constitution, the most incredible document in the history of mankind. It established a republic, which grants power to the people who then vote for officials to represent them. The Constitution divided government power among three branches — the legislative, judicial and the executive — to ensure checks and balances.

Hey, that was some good thinking. What does the judicial branch do?

It is supposed to review and explain the laws and resolve disputes between parties. Mainly, it is supposed to objectively determine if a law is in accord with the U.S. Constitution. But today some judges are getting creative in interpreting the Constitution. This has resulted in some puzzling judgments.

I ought to keep on top of that stuff more. OK, what is the First Amendment?

This is from the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that were designed to protect individual rights. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the right to petition the government and freedom of the press. It is essential to the survival of a democracy that the press be objective and that it works hard to root out corruption.

I had no idea that amendment had so much stuff going on. OK, name two or more ways that Americans can participate in their democracy.

Americans should participate in their democracy if they want it to survive. Americans should vote. They should contact elected officials and say what they think about the issues. They should write letters to the editor. And why not consider running for elected office themselves?

I got to tell you, buddy, you know more about what America means than most native-born Americans do, including this one. Perhaps we native Americans should be required to pass the citizenship exam, too.

This is not a bad suggestion, sir, but that would be unconstitutional.


Tom Purcell is a nationally syndicated humor columnist. Contact him at TomPurcell@aol.com.

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