Who is teaching these students basic civics?

Evidently, the nation’s youth need a huge re-fresher in the freedoms many have died for.

Today’s youth have a unique understanding, or lack thereof, of the First Amendment. Three of four students in a recent University of Connecticut study said they thought flag burning is a crime, and one in two thought the government could restrict indecent material on the Internet.

Whatever we think about the correctness of burning a U.S. flag, it cannot currently be prohibited, nor can the government restrict explicit material on the Internet, with the exception of certain types of pornography.

While 99 percent of principals and 97 percent of teachers surveyed think people have a right to express unpopular ideas, only 83 percent of students agreed. Most disturbingly, after being shown the First Amendment’s text, one in three students surveyed thought it went “too far.” If such a judgment came after pondering a list of modern First Amendment interpretations, this might be a rather interesting fact we would disagree.

Reasonable people can disagree on modern First Amendment jurisprudence. But the text itself is an amazing set of freedoms that form the cornerstone of our democracy: the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, the right to petition the government and two separate religious freedoms – freedom from a governmental establishment of religion and the freedom to practice a religion as one sees fit. These rights come with duties. The First Amendment helped give us the freedom to rule ourselves. But this is not an easy task. If young people don’t understand the rights, it’s unlikely they will carry out the duties.

First Amendment issues are not settled questions today. As journalists are threatened with jail, the freedom of the press is more important than ever. In recent cases involving the University of Wisconsin and the Boy Scouts of America, the limits of the First Amendment’s religious clauses are being tested.

Evidently, primary and secondary schools are not doing enough. Students need to learn about the ideals of this country more often and in more engaging ways. We don’t, however, feel the government should jump in on this issue. Such efforts overly restrict good teachers. Instead, educators everywhere must teach the freedoms and duties our political system offers and demands. Our future truly depends on it.