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One-Third of Americans Believe the First Amendment Goes Too Far

July 16, 2013

By Newseum Institute

Image_FreeSpeechWASHINGTON, July 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In a survey released today by the Newseum Institute, 34 percent of Americans say the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, up from 13 percent in last year’s survey. This is the largest single-year increase in the history of the State of the First Amendment national survey.

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center-sponsored survey has been conducted since 1997 to determine public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment and related issues. The results were released today by First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson and Newseum Institute Chief Operating Officer Gene Policinski at a luncheon for high school students attending the 2013 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

“It’s unsettling to see a third of Americans view the First Amendment as providing too much liberty,” said Paulson, who also is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. “This underscores the need for more First Amendment education. If we truly understand the essential role of these freedoms in a democracy, we’re more likely to protect them,” Paulson said.

On other issues, the survey found:

  • Americans identified freedom of speech as the most important freedom that citizens enjoy (47 percent), followed by freedom of religion (10 percent), freedom of choice (7 percent), and the right to vote and the right to bear arms (both 5 percent).
  • 80 percent agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as an independent “watchdog” over government on behalf of the public, up 5 percentage points from 2012; 46 percent believe that “the news media try to report the news without bias” — the highest number since the survey began asking the question in 2004.
  • Only 4 percent of those surveyed could name “petition” as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, the lowest percentage this year for any of the five freedoms.
  • Only freedom of speech was named by more than half of the respondents, 59 percent. Freedom of religion was named by 24 percent, while just 14 percent named freedom of the press and 11 percent named assembly.
  • 75 percent believe high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights just as adults do, while 23 percent disagreed.

“Americans remain generally supportive of First Amendment freedoms. But the inability of most to even name the freedoms, combined with the increase of those who think the freedoms go too far, shows how quickly that support can erode,” said Policinski. “As a nation, we must better prepare our fellow and future citizens for the hard decision of defending core freedoms against those who would damage or limit them by violence or by law.” Read the rest in the Sacramento Bee.

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