July 16, 2013
Photo illustration: Newseum

Photo illustration: Newseum

2013 First Amendment Survey: First Amendment Goes Too Far

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WASHINGTON — One third of Americans, 34 percent, thinks the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to the 2013 State of the First Amendment national survey that was released July 16. That number is up from 13 percent from 2012, the largest single-year increase in the history of the annual survey.

The survey, conducted since 1997 by the Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center, determines public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment and related issues. The results were released by Ken Paulson, First Amendment Center president, and Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, 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 is also 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," he said.

On other issues, the survey found:

  • 47 percent of Americans identified freedom of speech as the most important freedom that citizens enjoy
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 75 percent believe high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights the same as adults

"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," said Policinski.

Complete survey results are available at newseum.org and firstamendmentcenter.org.

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