Survey reveals support for First Amendment freedoms at 10-year high, with a few caveats

A new survey commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has found that support for First Amendment freedoms is at a 10-year high among high school students.

Despite continuing debate throughout the country on a multitude of free speech issues, the Future of the First Amendment Survey released Tuesday revealed that 91 percent of the 11,998 high school students questioned agreed that people should be able to openly express unpopular opinions – up from 83 percent since the survey was initially conducted in 2004.

“The report reveals how student perspectives are changing in a new media environment and

opens opportunities for educators, journalists and defenders of the First Amendment to

anticipate and address the challenges that may affect our most fundamental rights,”

Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism, said in a press release.

While 91 percent of students support the open expression of unpopular opinions, their thoughts became more muddled when the type of unpopular opinion changed. Only 45 percent of students agreed that people should be able to express unpopular opinions if they offended others, and 43 percent agreed that people should be able to express unpopular opinions on social media even if the speech could offend others.

Among the other notable findings in the survey include a correlation between the amount of news a student consumes and the chance they support First Amendment freedoms. Sixty-two percent of students who consumed news on mobile devices supported the right to express unpopular opinions, while only 52 percent of students who did not consume news on a mobile device supported the right to express unpopular opinions.

As New Voices press-freedom legislation continues to make its way through various state legislatures, the survey revealed a majority of high school teachers still do not support freedom of expression for students creating content about their schools – a somewhat concerning trend for the future autonomy of student journalism.

Sixty-one percent of teachers believe that students should not be allowed to report on controversial issues in student newspapers without the approval of school authorities, while 66 percent believe students should be punished for expressing their opinions about teachers and school administrators on social media.

Conversely, 63 percent of students felt they should be allowed to publish controversial stories without prior approval from school authorities.

Despite a few discrepancies, Kenneth Dautrich, who authored the study, said the results were a victory for First Amendment freedoms.

“This year’s study paints a very favorable picture of the future of the First Amendment. Today’s

high school students are more supportive of free expression rights than any we’ve surveyed in

the past,” he said in a press release. The most supportive students are also heavy news and digital media consumers, those that regularly see First Amendment freedoms play out as producers or consumers of information.”