“State of the First Amendment” survey finds 1/3 of Americans think the First Amendment goes too far

One-third of Americans think the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” the First Amendment Center reported today.

Results of a Newseum Institute survey sponsored by the FAC revealed that while 34 percent of Americans think the First Amendment guarantees too many rights, many of those surveyed didn’t have a good grasp on the rights it includes. More than a third couldn’t name any of its guarantees at all, and just four percent named the right to petition. Freedom of speech was named most, at 59 percent.

Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, said he was “disappointed…but not surprised,” by the fact that a third of Americans think the First Amendment goes too far.

The fact that the survey was done just a month after the Boston Marathon bombing may have influenced that number, he said. A similar result was seen when, about eight months after the 2001 terror attacks, the number jumped from the 20-30 percent range up to 49 percent, he said. This year, the number jumped 21 percent.

“There’s a great disconnect, I think, between the freedoms we enjoy and the sense that they’re essential to the nature of the country,” Policinski said. “Terrorism has just changed everything.”

However, Policinski said he was heartened by the fact that 75 percent of Americans said “high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights just as adults do” and 80 percent said “the news media should act as a government watchdog.”

Still, in today’s complex, global society, more education is needed about American rights, Policinski said.

“I well understand the emphasis on math and science today but I think we’re raising a generation of students who don’t know the core freedoms that the country enjoys,” Policinski said. “I think it’s hard to defend them if you’re not sure what they are.”

For further breakdowns and more stats, check out the entire report here.