On Sundays, Gothamist likes to publish opinion pieces by our readers and friends. The opinions expressed below are that of the author and are not necessarily that of Gothamist LLC or any of its editors

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Part One: POP QUIZ! Name as many of the seven dwarves as you can. Count with your fingers, or, even take a minute before reading on and scribble down on a scrap of paper as many of their names as you can dredge up.

Ok, Part Two.

Now, on the other hand (though you’ve hopefully run out of fingers at this point), or on the verso of your scrap of paper, count as many of the Supreme Court justices of the United States as you can.

Hint: There are nine of them.

Further hints: All but one are men. One is black. The oldest was born in 1920.

Sure, it’s an old gag, not to mention a cheap one, but pull it out as your next bar trick, or at your next dinner party, and the response will be frightening. News people will look you in the eye, dumbfounded. Even lawyers will purse their eyebrows incredulously, and then a strange look will wander across their face, because there’s simply no excuse to not know at least the names of those who sit atop the highest court in the land. Let's review: Ginsburg (the lone female), Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy, Stevens (will be 86 years old next month), Souter, Breyer, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts.

And should someone call your bluff and rattle off at least five of the Justices’ names while not even stooping to your request for Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy and Happy (who can forget Happy!?), it’s probably a loss worth taking and surely a lesson learned for everyone else.

(Note: I hope to – sooner rather than later – be so humiliated in a very public place with a bit like this. Because let’s face it, this joke shouldn’t work.)

But sadly, this joke does work, and according to a survey released this week by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, there’s a new joke in town. And it’s much worse.

Apparently Americans, on the whole, do not even know their most basic freedoms.

To add insult to injury, at the same time as the folks at McCormick asked 1,000 Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, they also asked the same random sample to name characters on the Simpsons and the judges on American Idol. And the truth is? We know more about Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Paula, Randy and Simon than we do about the beliefs at the heart of the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world.

(Can’t come up with the five freedoms either? Briefly: Press, Religion, Speech, Assembly and the right to Petition One’s Government. But truly, they are incredibly written, not to mention the fact that when you know them they make you an incredibly powerful agent in age when civil liberties are fading faster than the New York Knicks: Seriously! CLICK HERE FOR THE BILL OF RIGHTS.)

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of those five freedoms granted by the First Amendment. What’s more, one in five believe that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own a pet. (Rufus? Scrappy? Don’t take him away from me!) And last but not least, 38 percent of Americans said that your protection against self-incrimination was guaranteed in the First Amendment.

If anything, the only fair answer to the Seven Dwarves question is: “I plead the Fifth.”

Perhaps this all wouldn’t be so frightening if the shift in our nation’s foreign policy over the last few years weren’t centered on the ideal of exporting democracy. It doesn’t take an expert to explain that democracy comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties. (Which, as long as we’re conducting this Sunday-morning civics lesson, means a representative form of government, not a capitalist-based free-market economy, as the term is sometimes used to mean). Essential to our American-style democracy are tenets such as universal suffrage and those rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Now, as word came this week from Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, that the U.S. Military will continue to pay Iraqi “news” agencies to disseminate explicit, pro-U.S. propaganda.

Though the U.S. Constitution is a brilliant document as it divides the powers of the Federal Government into three distinct branches, which continually serve as a “check” on each other, and in turn, hand the people a fair and “balanced” system, there is one, final fact that underlies any democracy: the people are the ultimate check on their government.

As the U.S. continues to wage wars overseas, either by explicit military means or by the perhaps more effective – though sometimes just as violent – means of economic strong-arming, and the more this country forgets about the core principles on which it was founded the more the rest of the world will turn a blind eye, or even a strong arm of their own, against what’s become only an emperor with no clothes.

Unfortunately for us, this isn’t as simple as memorizing nine justices’ names or the catchwords of five basic freedoms. It’s a belief in who we are, and in turn, it’s the way we live our lives.

Anyone have a mirror handy?

Dog photograph from Luke H's flickr stream.

Andrew Bast is currently selling his first novel, The Casualty. He edits The New York Inquirer and reads everything sent to acbast at gmail.com.