The results of a new survey released today by the Newseum Institute shows that roughly 34 percent of Americans think that 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 survey has been conducted since 1997 to determine public opinion about First Amendment rights and issues. The results were released today by First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson and Newseum Institute Chief Operating Officer Gene Policinski.
The survey also found that 47 percent of Americans think free speech is very important, while 10 percent said freedom of religion is the most important right, followed by 5 percent (each) who think the right to bear arms and the right to vote are important.
Approximately 80 percent (up 5 percent from the 2012 survey) said that the news media – which was once called the fifth estate of the republic – should be an independent watchdog over the government, while 46 percent believe that "the news media try to report the news without bias." Only 4 percent of those surveyed could name "petition" as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, and 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 the right to assembly. Finally, 75 percent believe high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights just as adults do, while 23 percent disagreed.
The takeaway for those who sponsored the survey is that this new data shows that Americans need to be educated more about the rights that are available to them and why they are so important.
Full survey results are available at newseum.org and firstamendmentcenter.org.