Constitution Week

Elected Officials Fail U.S. Constitution Quiz
By Sam Johnson

     "The fact that our elected representatives know even less about America's history and institutions than the typical troubling indeed."
-- Richard Brake, co-chairman National Civic Literacy Board


      Each year, September 17th is designated by presidential proclamation as “CONSTITUTION DAY and CITIZENSHIP DAY.” September 17-23 is called “CONSTITUTION WEEK.”

      The U.S. Congress requires this through joint resolutions passed in 1952 (36 U.S.C. 106) and 1956 (36 U.S.C. 108).

      Furthermore, Congress also requires every school (including universities) that receives federal funds, to provide an educational program about the U.S. Constitution during this week in order to continue receiving federal funds.

      However, what the law SHOULD require is that all elected officials take part in one of these school programs about the U.S. Constitution in order to continue receiving their federal funds -- i.e. their paycheck!

     That's because 74 percent of elected officials who took a survey quiz on American civics FAILED it!

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The quiz, which featured 33 basic civics questions, even included questions from the U.S. Citizenship Exam -- the very test we give to foreign citizens who want to become U.S. citizens.

      No, this was not one of Jay Leno's "Stupid American" set-ups where he ambushes unsuspecting people walking the streets of Hollywood outside his TV studio in order to show how dumb Americans are.

     This was a project by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) that has for the past 5 years conducted a civics literacy survey of over 30,000 adult Americans, then analyzed the results in order to learn what typical Americans know about their own government.

     One subset of the survey includes adults who identified themselves as having been "successfully elected to government office at least once in their life," including federal, state, and local positions.

     This group of elected officials "proved particularly clueless on questions about the U.S. Constitution."

     In fact, according to Richard Brake, co-chairman of the lSI National Civic

Civic Knowledge Quiz

Literacy Board, 20 percent of the elected officials thought that the Electoral College was a school for "training those aspiring for higher political office."

     Additional responses by the elected officials were equally appalling:

     • Only 46 percent of the officeholders knew that Congress, not the President, has the power to declare war, while 54 percent of the general public identified the correct answer.  

     • Only 15 percent of the elected officials were able to identify the phrase "wall of separation" as NOT contained in the U.S. Constitution, but in the letters of Thomas Jefferson.

     • Only 49 percent of elected officials could name all three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial) compared to 50 percent of the general public.

     • And just 57 percent of the officeholders knew what the Electoral College does, compared 66 percent of the general public.

     The final analysis of the civics literacy survey actually showed the general public to be significantly more knowledgeable than officeholders on several topics, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (14 percent difference in average score), Sputnik (11 percent difference), and the ability to identify the "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as listed in the Declaration of Independence (13 percent difference).
Commenting on the comparison of these results, lSI National Civic Literacy Board co-chairman, Richard Brake observed: "Perhaps this helps explain the lack of constitutional discipline often displayed by our political class at every level of our system."
What's more, this "lack of constitutional discipline" bi-partisan!
The elected officeholders participating in the survey identified themselves as Democrats (40 percent), Republicans (31 percent), Independents (21 percent), with 8 percent indicating no party affiliation.
The final results of this national civics literacy survey indicated that 74 percent of the officeholders failed the exam, compared to 71 percent of those who had not held office.
So, what can we take away from this?
Here's an idea:
     Perhaps during the up-coming Congressionally prescribed "Constitution Week," elected officeholders themselves should take part in (or better yet, conduct) the mandated educational programs about the U.S. Constitution that are required in our public schools and universities.

(Some of this information comes directly from: Intercollegiate Studies Institute,, and WorldNetDaily).

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