A survey of a thousand Americans found that people are more likely to know the names of Simpsons characters than the freedoms. Only one of the thousand could name the five freedoms articulated in the First Amendment.
Of course, this is a great headline, and is easy to cast in terms of dumb or unappreciative Americans. And I think it is true that it is hard to maintain these rights when people are unaware of them. But…
This is going to sound like I favor a literal interpretation of the constitution, and as a communication prof, I am very suspicious of literal interpretations. But I think Americans are likely to pay attention to laws when they matter. Clearly, the freedoms enshrined in the Firs have never been absolute rights. The Amendment appears to be more of a “this is something we would like to encourage whenever possible.” Similar nods to free speech, in particular, appear in constitutions of states we would not necessarily associate with the ideal, including China and Singapore.
Here in the US, in an era of “protest zones,” and prisoners without access to courts, it’s hard to see this as more than posturing. I won’t go so far as to say the First Amendment is as fictional as Simpsons characters, but the latter seem to be somehow more relevant to our everyday lives.