Good ideas are great - but donors need to support good ideas to make them happen. The National Constitutional Literacy Campaign is a good idea, and donors to get behind this effort to make it a great outreach for all Americans. We encourage your active participation in launching this campaign for several important reasons:
First, the courts and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court are constantly reviewing laws to see if they are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Both students and adults need to know the U.S. Constitution if they want to participate meaningfully in the discussion in the public square on the issues before the court. For example, The Bill of Rights, which was added almost immediately to the Constitution after the Constitution was ratified, guaranteed Americans a list of key rights, including the freedom of speech, right to bear arms, the right to a jury trial, and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. These basic rights have ensured that all Americans have the freedoms necessary that have allowed the U.S. to become the dominant world leader economically.
Americans’ knowledge of the U.S. Constitution (particularly young people) is not what it should be. TIME Magazine reported in 2010. The survey’s findings included:
- Only 28% of those surveyed indicated they’d read the entire treatise;
- Approximately 67 % of respondents said the last time they took a look at the Constitution was in high school or college;
- Fortunately, however, 88% believed that the Constitution still works today.
In the area of practical knowledge, survey results indicated that:
- 61% of respondents thought the Constitution provided for regulating interstate commerce;
- 89% thought the Constitution allowed for printing and regulating money; and
- 90% believed that the Constitution allowed for drawing up treaties
In fact, all of these things are the responsibilities of the federal government, and were not enumerated in the Constitution.
Second, despite the many strengths of the Constitution, this wonderful document is only as strong as the citizenry that constitutes the United States. Without strong civic participation, the Constitution, and therefore the United States itself, could easily lose the very freedoms that have led to its economic prominence.
Of particular concern is a recent Gallup Report. Some of its findings include the following:
Fewer Americans are satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives compared with seven years ago—dropping 12 percentage points from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. In that same period, the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled, from 9% to 21%.
Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide.
Third, there are several ways that foundations and individuals can encourage young people to learn the U.S. Constitution and understand why it works. The competitions that are described in this Special Section are an outstanding way to encourage students and their parents to understand the U.S. Constitution. If we can get more competitions going around the country, we can turn around the negative trends in freedom that the Gallup organization has found.
As a Foundation, we have been supporting organizations, such as the Federalist Society that encourages debates on the Constitution and The Daniel Morgan Academy which helps to ensure that future generations will be able to better participate in the security of their country. Organizations are what keep momentum going. When organizations come together like the National Constitution Literacy Coalition, it makes it more compelling for foundations to show support.
Albert Einstein got it right when he said, “The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.”
It is our duty, both as citizens and as civic leaders, to ensure that the Constitution remains protected for future generations of Americans. Foundations play an essential role in ensuring that the organizations devoted to educating our citizens about the Constitution and American government have the resources and tools they need to be effective.
• Abby S. Moffatt is Executive Vice President of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. David Sandafer was a summer intern at the organization.