Civic Ignorance
Civic Ignorance
David Barton
David Barton
WallBuilders founder and director

July-August 2015 – Many stories have been written about CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s embarrassing historical gaff when he told Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in February: “Our rights do not come from God, your honor, and you know that. They come from man.” Of course, American governing documents state exactly the opposite.

But what has not been adequately covered is why Cuomo might make such a statement. I, for one, am not particularly surprised by it – and I don’t say that because of his liberal pedigree as the son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, the brother of current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, or because he graduated from Yale. Rather, I say that because he is 44 years old, and therefore graduated from American schools within the past three decades. After all, according to recent studies:

Two-thirds of Americans cannot identify the three branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial), three-fourths do not know what the judicial branch does, and eight in ten cannot name even one of the federal government’s powers.

Seven in ten do not know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

Eight in ten cannot name even two of the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence, and 44% are unable to define the Bill of Rights.

Only 1 in 1,000 can name the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment (speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition).

We actually pay a lot to get these abysmal results – $12,000 per year per student, or well over $140,000 in their 12 or 13 years of public education.

No wonder states like Arizona and North Dakota recently enacted laws requiring that students pass the nation’s 100-question immigration test in order to graduate. And why not? Shouldn’t native born Americans know at least as much about America as our foreign immigrants are required to know?

Reflecting the same concern, other states have passed laws establishing annual Celebrate Freedom Week, during which public school students study the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. (See below.) And those in grades 3 through 12 learn and recite the specific section of the Declaration of which Cuomo was apparently unaware:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Unless we take decisive action regarding civic education, growing numbers of Americans will make the same mistake Cuomo did – or worse yet, we may reach a time when we no longer recognize that what he said was a mistake.

Incidentally, in case there is any confusion about the intent behind the Declaration of Independence’s unambiguous language that our inalienable rights come from God, consider the words of a few of those who created our government.

▶ John Dickinson, a signer of the Constitution, defined an inalienable right as one “which God gave to you and which no inferior power has a right to take away.” He further explained that human governments:
… could not give the rights essential to happiness. . . . We claim them from a higher Source – from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives.
▶ John Adams said that inalienable rights are:
…antecedent to all earthly government; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.
▶ Alexander Hamilton explained that inalienable rights:
… are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the Divinity itself and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
▶ Samuel Adams avowed that:
They are imprinted by the finger of God on the heart of man.
▶ And Thomas Jefferson questions:
[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis: a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? – that they are not to be violated but with His wrath?
▶ Understanding this, John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the original Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, therefore wisely urged:
I . . . recommend a general and public return of praise and thanksgiving to Him from Whose goodness these blessings descend. The most effectual means of securing the continuance of our civil and religious liberties is always to remember with reverence and gratitude the Source from which they flow.

The Founding Fathers were clear about our rights coming from God, but Cuomo chose the opposite position.  undefined

Celebrate Freedom
In the context of a culture in which all three branches of our federal government appear to be in runaway pursuit of unrestrained license for all sorts of aberrant lifestyles, there sometimes seems to be little hope for a future based on any semblance of moral absolutes.

Traditional, conservative, and Christian communities find themselves more and more disenfranchised and excluded from the public forum.

Yet, even in this unhealthy moral climate, occasional harbingers of hope appear. For example, Celebrate Freedom Week is an official holiday designed to emphasize the teaching of the country’s origins with an emphasis on the founding documents. It offers curricula suitable for grades K-12. 

As of September 2013, the five states that officially celebrate CFW are Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.There is no consensus on the date of the observance. Kansas and Texas celebrate the week containing September 17,date of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Oklahoma chose the week of Veterans Day, November 11. Florida and Arkansas celebrate it the last full week of September. 

“This is a great idea,” said AFA president Tim Wildmon. “Others should look into this in their states.” For more information visit

Purchase “1st Freedom” buttons and stickers at
Hear historian David Barton, founder and director of WallBuilders, in person at AFA’s Retreat at the Cove September 28-October 1 ( Find Barton resources at or