The Newseum Institute released the results of their annual survey about the First Amendment this week, revealing a disturbing statistic: 34% of the people surveyed believe the First Amendment goes too far.
Sponsored by the First Amendment Center, the Newseum Institute has conducted the survey annually since 1997 to gauge public perception of the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees. This year’s results represent a huge increase over last year, when only 13% of respondents stated that the First Amendment goes too far.
First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson responded to the survey results, citing the need for more education about the First Amendment:
“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.
Despite the large number of people who are opposed to the scope of freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, 47% cited freedom of speech as the most important of our freedoms. However, the results also indicated an lack of awareness about the five freedoms (speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition) guaranteed by the First Amendment — only 59% of respondents identified freedom of speech. Newseum Institute CEO Gene Policinski responded to this lack of understanding:
“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.”
For the results of the survey, visit the First Amendment Center’s website. The study stands as evidence for the continued existence of organizations such as CBLDF that advocate for First Amendment rights. The fact that a third of Americans believe the First Amendment goes too far indicates a potential willingness to infringe upon the rights the First Amendment protects. As disheartening as the results of the survey might be, CBLDF and other First Amendment advocates continue to stand between would-be censors and the materials they attack.
Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF