Few support more First Amendment rights for high school students, survey finds

TENNESSEE — While support of the First Amendment isincreasing, Americans are not as willing to apply it to high school students, anannual survey conducted by the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center andthe American Journalism Review reveals.Gene Policinski, deputydirector of the First Amendment Center, said there is a willingness to stiflethe opinions of high school students. “There is an additionalconcern about disrupting the educational process. While that might beunderstandable, it presents clearly an ambivalence of the rights of high schoolstudents versus the rights of adults or even older students,” saidPolicinski, who supervised the survey.The results of the study, releasedAugust 1, were compiled by the University of Connecticut’s Center forSurvey Research and Analysis. One thousand respondents were asked questions in anationwide telephone poll about large corporations’ impact on the contentof media, journalists’ involvement in reporting on the war in Iraq andeducating children about First Amendment freedoms.The survey conductedafter the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks saw a spike in the percentage of peoplethat strongly agreed that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights itguarantees for adults. Forty-one percent of the people surveyed in 2002 agreedwith that statement, but in this year’s survey the number dropped to 19 percent.High school students did not enjoy such growing support for theirrights. Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, saidthat support for them is dangerously low. The survey indicates that 28 percentof respondents think students have too little freedom to express themselves,compared to the 54 percent who said that high school students have the rightamount. “Part of the problem is that high schools are places wherestudents have very little opportunity to express themselves,” said Haynes.“If [students] are going to be active and effective citizens they have tohave a real voice.”Researchers found that 48 percent of Americanssay public school officials should have the power to prohibit high schoolstudents from wearing T-shirts, armbands or other insignia at school thatexpresses their opinion about the war in Iraq. Haynes said the number ofAmericans showing support for granting administrators more authority overstudent speech in a school setting is both frightening and sets a dangerousprecedent. “This is one of the things wrong with our schoolstoday,” Haynes said. “American people do not support making ourschools laboratories of freedom and expression. Instead, we have schools thatteach about citizenship and freedom in an atmosphere ofrepression.”

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