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First Amendment Survey: Good News, Bad News

The First Amendment Center has released its annual “State of the First Amendment” survey (PDF), and there’s some good news and some bad news when it comes to comparing this year’s survey results with last year’s (PDF). The survey of more than 1000 adults nationwide shows that there is still much work to be done in the realm of educating citizens on their fundamental rights, but that progress is being made in certain areas.

Last year, FIRE was alarmed at the 36% of survey respondents who couldn’t name any First Amendment rights. This year, it’s down to 29%, and the vast majority of people who could name any of the rights secured by the First Amendment knew that freedom of speech was among them. That’s still too high, of course, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.

Worryingly, though, 38% of respondents this year said the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.” Last year, 34% of respondents did—but since only 13% felt that way in 2012, last year’s report suggested that the jump was a function of the survey being conducted just after the Boston Marathon bombing. Statistics collected after the September 2001 terrorist attacks revealed that people are often more willing to sacrifice certain rights in order to feel safe after what is perceived as a major physical threat. The fact that this figure has increased in the past year, rather than decrease, as might be assumed with the Boston Marathon bombing less fresh in respondents’ minds, is significant—and troubling.

Back in the “good news” category, we’re pleased to note that survey results showed a greater  appreciation for free speech principles with respect to the rights of high schoolers. Last year, 75% of respondents said that “high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights just as adults do.” This year, 78% of respondents agreed with that statement. Additionally, the percentage of respondents who “agree that public school students should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities” has risen steadily and significantly since 2001, and now sits at 68%.

Check out this year’s report on the First Amendment Center’s website for more on what Americans think about free speech, freedom of religion, and the other rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and check out last year’s statistics for responses to additional interesting questions.

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