Do YOU know what's in the First Amendment? 40% of Americans do not.

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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A recent survey sponsored by the Freedom Forum Institute found that 40% of Americans could not name ANY of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Spoiler Alert!
If you came here AFTER taking our First Amendment quiz, then read on.
But if you haven’t taken the quiz yet, go take the quiz first then come back here to compare how you did with the persons who took the survey.

As noted in the introduction to the survey:

The Freedom Forum Institute, a programming and education partner of the Newseum, has supported an annual survey investigating American attitudes toward the First Amendment since 1997. This report details the findings of the 21st iteration of the survey.

The opening question of the survey asked respondents to name the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. As expected, the freedom named the most was Freedom of Speech (named by 56% of respondents). Next was Freedom of Religion (15%), Freedom of the Press (13%), and Right of Assembly (12%), with Right to Petition being the least likely to be recalled (2%).

There were also a number of incorrect answers that were common, with the right to bear arms being the most common. (The Right to Bear Arms is actually in the 2nd Amendment.)

Two shocking facts came out of the survey, though:

  • Fully 40% of the persons asked could not name ANY of the Five Freedoms.
  • Only one person got all five freedoms correct.

A follow-on question that has been in the survey since 1999 is “Do you believe the First Amendment goes too far?” Approximately 1 in 4 persons surveyed believe that it does go too far. However, 74% did not think so.

Current First Amendment questions

The remainder of the survey dealt with current applications of the First Amendment, including controversial college campus speakers, social media companies, the right of vendors to refuse to serve customers based on religious objections, and actions within polling places. You can read about these in the report itself (PDF).

Journalism and the First Amendment

The final segment of the survey included three questions related to journalism and the First Amendment:

  1. It is necessary for journalists to publicly disclose their potential conflicts of interest in order to be credible.
  2. It is important for our democracy that the news media act as a watchdog on government.
  3. The president should have the authority to deny press credentials to any news outlets he chooses.

A strong majority agreed with both statements 1 (disclose conflicts of interest) and 2 (be a watchdog). A majority also disagreed with statement 3, showing that they did not believe the president should be able to deny credentials as he/she chooses.

However, when split by party, Democrats were much more likely to disagree with statement 3, while Republicans were much more likely to agree that the president should be able to deny press credentials.

The Five Freedoms

Finally, so that everyone is clear just what the First Amendment actually guarantees, here it is broken out to show the Five Freedoms:

Congress shall make no law

  1. respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
  2. or abridging the freedom of speech
  3. or of the press;
  4. or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
  5. and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

These are key freedoms guaranteed to all of us. Let’s be sure we know them by heart.

–30–

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