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Bill of Rights Wouldn't Pass, Students Find

December 06, 1987|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN MARCOS, Calif. — What kind of support is there in San Diego County for "civil liberties," or is that whole notion a bit too long-haired and radical for the area?

The 36 honor students in a San Marcos High School civics class spread out throughout the county--from Balboa Park to the County Courthouse to shopping malls--to find out.

Petitions in hand, they asked for signatures in support of such issues as jury trials, the right to peacefully assemble, protection against double jeopardy and outrageous civil fines, and the promise of equity among different racial groups.

More than half--54.7%--of the people approached refused to support the notion of civil liberties.

"We already have too many laws," said one person. "Some of these aren't really fair," said another. "I don't believe in civil liberties," another answered glumly. "It's garbage," another declared. "Are you liberals?" one person asked the students.

In fact, the respondents were rebuking the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution that were adopted 200 years ago.

And the students concluded after the monthlong survey that, had the framers of the Constitution put their work to a public vote today, we might be living under far different circumstances.

Instructor Jerry Franklin said his students, members of a critical thinking and contemporary issues course, were not surprised by the results, given similar tests of public opinion elsewhere in the country in which the majority of those asked generally rebuked the Bill of Rights as outlandish, or did not even recognize the civil rights as ones already contained in the first 10 Amendments.

"Politics has turned most Americans into cynics, it seems," Franklin offered. "I pointed out to the students that the original framers did not turn the document over to the people for ratification, but to the state legislators to ratify--and that the Bill of Rights was added at the insistence of the people. But it is doubtless that today, while our legislators would now insist on the Bill of Rights, the people would not. Two-hundred years ago we were a nation of educated aristocrats; today we are a pluralistic society that would blunt the cutting edge of the Bill of Rights."

The students had summarized the contents of the Bill of Rights under the heading, "Committee to Guarantee Civil Liberties," and contacted 1,051 people of voting age to solicit support. Among the reactions:

"It's a good deal, but it will never work."

"Is there legislation on this going on right now?"

"These people for civil liberties are way out."

"I don't think people should have the right to petition or strike."

"I don't believe what you are doing is right."

"Do you guys want to change the law or something?"

"If this is against Bork (Judge Robert H. Bork, unsuccessful nominee for Supreme Court), forget it."

A San Diego police officer: "I agree (with trial by jury) but the others are being abused by our courts."

A city manager: "I can't sign this during working hours. It's too political."

And finally, "I don't want to get involved."

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