Do you know the Bill of Rights?

I heard this advice from a writing teacher: On randomly graded writing tests, like the TOEFL or SAT, the best amendment to study is the First Amendment, because the average person doesn’t know that the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and the press are all in the First Amendment, so it’s great for the “discuss 3 amendments of the Bill of Rights” questions.


Personally, I just found this out like 3 weeks ago. Before that, if I had to guess, I would put freedom of religion at ~6., press at ~3.

Even if the average person doesn’t know which is which, I would certainly hope that anyone grading such a test would. If I were grading a test that asked for “discuss three amendments in the Bill of Rights”, and someone talked about speech, assembly, and religion as being three different amendments, I’d flunk them, because it would be obvious that they hadn’t even tried looking at the document.

I can’t remember all of them, or precisely which one is which, but I’d expect most people would also know that the Second is the one about guns, and that the Fifth is the one that gives you the right to remain silent. Enough folks talk about the right to bear arms that it should be in the public consciousness, and everyone who’s seen a TV show or movie set in a courtroom knows that a criminal on trial takes the Fifth.

My favourite is the 3rd Amendment, since it’s had no relevance at any time since the Revolutionary War, even though the colonists must have been pretty riled about redcoats being quartered in their homes for it to have been included as a right at the same level as no establishment + religion + speech + press + assembly + petition (which could have been three or four amendments rather than just one).

Don’t forget that it also contains the right to petition the government clause as well.

Not true, actually. It was was fairly significant to one of the opinions (either the court or a concurring opinion) in Griswold v. Connecticut as implying a Constitutional right to privacy within one’s home. If you enjoy being able to have safe sex, this is relevant.

There was also a case in I think the 60’s in New York. There was a prison where the guards lived on the premises, effective renting from the prison. The guards went on strike and the National Guard was called in to fill in. The state tried to quarter the NG troops in the guard’s homes.

I am a bit conflicted, in my day, we were encouraged to memorize, but with the Internet, you can just hop on and look.

I think it’s far more important, by miles far more important, to be able to discuss the aspects of freedoms of religion and assembly and speech than to know they are in one amendment.

If I were to say they were different amendments, yet am able to intelligently make my points come across, I would be far smarter than someone who only memorized they were in one amendment and couldn’t, for instance, talk about the limits on those rights.

I don’t need to know everything as long as I know where I can go look it up.

This is where I am conflicted. For instance, when I was a kid we were encouraged to memorize the “Times tables.” But I could never see the point of going past memorizing the “Tens times table,” 'cause once you get that far, you can combine. For instance I don’t need to know 12 X 8 is 96, when in my mind I can say 10 X8 = 80 and add to that 2 X 8 or 16 to get 96. OK that isn’t as quick as memorizing the “Twelves times table,” but it’s quick enough.

If I study the US Constitution, I don’t need to know how it’s organized to discuss it intelligently. As long as I know WHAT the points are and what they mean, how or where it appears in the document is unimportant.