Editorial: What’s your freedom IQ?

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

Tomorrowís Independence Day celebration springs from the Declaration of Independence that led to the coloniesí separation from Britain. But what really undergirds our sense of freedom is the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
It was one thing to cut ties with the mother country ó quite another to decide how we would govern ourselves. How would the ěinalienable rightsî mentioned in the defiant declaration be outlined once the country won its freedom?
That was the purpose of the Constitution, and the First Amendment may be the most pivotal paragraph in the entire document:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Because of that amendment, you can go to the church, temple or mosque of your choice or not worship at all. Because of that amendment, newspapers and other publications are free from government dictate concerning their content. Because of that amendment, foes of forced annexation were able to take their grievances to the General Assembly and bring about changes to the law.
Because of that amendment, people can hold gay pride events, and others can protest them, as happened last weekend on East Fisher Street. Some 2,000 people came to the Salisbury Pride festival organized by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, and more than 200 demonstrated against the event.
ěEverybody that came had a constitutional right to be there,î Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins said a few days later. But police had the power to put some limits on the activities. No one was allowed to carry signs into the festival area. A group of demonstrators that had a permit was assigned to a corner across the street. Police enforced other guidelines for individuals who took their protests into the festival area.
ěNever in my career have I had to use and consider and argue about constitutional rights so much,î Collins said. There was no feeling of physical volatility, he said. Instead, he said, ěit was more of a mental day.î
We could all stand to exercise our understanding of the Constitution, and hereís an easy way to do it. The American Society of Newspaper Editors and USA Today have created the Great First Amendment Quiz, a 20-question online test of your ěFreedom IQ.î Youíll find it at http://1forall.us/
While Americans highly value the nationís founders and principles, surveys show that we tend to vastly overrate our knowledge on those subjects. This quiz and its explanation of the correct answers provide an opportunity to brush up on our freedoms, even as we celebrate them.