Survey shows support for student speech in decline

While support of the First Amendment is increasing overall, Americans are not as willing to apply it to high school students, an annual survey by the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center and the American Journalism Review reveals. 

In a nationwide telephone poll released in August, 1,000 adults were asked questions about corporate ownership of the media, journalists’ involvement in reporting on the war in Iraq and educating children about First Amendment freedoms. 

The previous survey, conducted after the Sept. 11 attacks, saw a spike in the percentage of people who strongly agreed that the First Amendment goes too far in the free-speech rights it guarantees for adults. Forty-one percent of the people surveyed agreed with that statement, but in this year’s survey, the number dropped to 19 percent. 

High school students did not enjoy such growing support for their rights.

The 2003 survey indicated that 28 percent of the respondents think students have too little freedom to express themselves, compared to the 54 percent who said that high school students have the right amount.

Researchers found that 48 percent of Americans say public school officials should have the power to prohibit high school students from wearing T-shirts, armbands or other insignia at school that expresses their opinion about the war in Iraq.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said the survey’s results show a dangerous trend.

“American people do not support making our schools laboratories of freedom and expression,” Haynes said.  “Instead, we have schools that teach about citizenship and freedom in an atmosphere of repression.”