Could you pass the citizenship test?
Every person who comes to this country and wishes to become a citizen of the United States must pass a test about our nation's founding principles, history and governmental structure. Would your knowledge of civics be enough to pass that test?There are some staggering statistics about the limited knowledge Americans have about our government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and our justice system.A 2006 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that one-third of adults could not name even one of the three branches of government. That same survey showed that only 30 percent of adults knew U.S. Supreme Court rulings are final and less than half of Americans believed that a 5-4 decision carries the same legal weight as a 9-0 ruling. Just last year, a study by FindLaw.com showed that two-thirds of Americans could not name one of the U.S. Supreme Court justices.Civic knowledge is essential to the protection of our constitutional democracy. The phrase "We the people" expresses the essence of our democratic self government - "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people." There is no more important goal than having an understanding of our government and the fundamental values and principles of our Constitution.With such knowledge, people realize that their rights as citizens go hand in hand with their personal responsibility to be an informed and an involved citizenry.It is time to take action to raise the bar on civics education. As a first step, the New Hampshire Bar Association and the New Hampshire Bar Foundation are embarking on a joint civic initiative called Civics in Action. The idea is to engage adults through fast-paced, interactive activities that focus on their role as citizens and enhance their knowledge of our government and our court system. Civics in Action will inform audiences about our representative democracy. Using questions from the U.S. Citizenship Test, participants will be prompted to discuss our government and how it relates to the rule of law and the justice system.Our goal is to bring this program to every Rotary Club in New Hampshire from now through Law Day (May 1, 2012). We started off this year with a program at the Rotary Club of Concord on Sept. 13 - yes, we got a head start!The Bar Association already maintains an ongoing schedule of law-related education programs, primarily directed at students in the classroom.We hope that this outreach is a small step forward in promoting a deeper appreciation of our constitutional democracy and an understanding of our rights and responsibilities as citizens.We seek to inspire people to share the insights they gain about civics with their colleagues, friends and families, and hope that, in subsequent years, the Bar Association and Bar Foundation can continue Civics in Action with additional programs reaching more citizens in New Hampshire.If you are interested in finding out more about Civics in Action, go to nhbar.org.Jennifer L. Parent, president of the New Hampshire Bar Association, is a director of the McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton law firm and chairwoman of its Employment Law Practice Group.