44% also favor the government forcing journalists to give up their news sources.
July 18, 2013
A recent national poll shows that 34% of Americans believe the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”
The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, conducted the national survey of 1,006 American adults in May.
That belief is up 13% compared to the results of the same survey conducted last year, the largest single-year increase since the center started the annual surveys in 1997.
“It’s unsettling to see a third of Americans view the First Amendment as providing too much liberty,” said First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson in a press release. “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.”
For reference, the text of the First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The survey also asked respondents other related questions:
- When asked to name the five specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, only the freedom of speech was named by the majority of the respondents at 59%. Less than a quarter of the respondents, 24%, named freedom of religion. 14% recalled the freedom of the press and 11% remembered the freedom of peaceful assembly. Only 4% knew of their guaranteed freedom to petition the government.
- 36% of respondents could not name any of the five specific rights listed in the First Amendment.
- 31% agreed that musicians should not be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that might offend others.
- 44% favor court orders requiring journalists to give up their news sources.
- 80% agreed that the news media act as an independent “watch dog” over government on behalf of the people.
“Americans remain generally supportive of First Amendment freedoms,” said Newseum Institute CEO Gene Policinski in a press release. “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.”
“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.”
Unfortunately our core freedoms are already under attack.
We reported last month that police arrested a San Diego man, Jeff Olsen, for writing anti-bank messages in washable chalk on a public sidewalk.
Olsen said the messages he wrote, such as “Shame on Bank of America,” never used profanity.
In 2010, media analyst and political activist Mark Dice even convinced people to sign a petition repealing the First Amendment.
He followed up with even more satire last month when he asked beach goers to sign a petition banning Christian symbols from public view.
The First Amendment Center conducts the yearly surveys to gauge the public’s opinions and knowledge on issues affecting the First Amendment.
The sampling error for this year’s survey is +/- 3.2% at the 95% confidence level, meaning that when sampling another group of Americans using the same methodology, there is only a 1 in 20 chance the results would differ by more than 3.2% in either direction.
The Newseum Insitute operates a 250,000 square foot museum of news and journalism history, aptly called the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.