The Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center came out with its annual survey of American’s knowledge of and attitudes about the First Amendment.
While the latest survey shows the highest percent of people aware that freedom of speech is a protected right since the poll was first taken in 1997, an overwhelming majority of respondents did not think that freedom should be extended to corporations and unions — which was upheld by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC, ending the McCain-Feingold limits on campaign spending by such groups.
People seem willing to give up the right to organize and combine their resources to influence elections due to the specter of large volumes of money. The other guy is just too stupid to resist repeated messages, they must think.
As is typical, the number of people who could name all five rights in First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition — was a paltry 4 percent, while fully 27 percent could not name a single one. As I said, speech fared best at 65 percent, followed by religion at 28 percent, with assembly and press both recalled by 13 percent. Only 4 percent could of petition, perhaps since it is all too often a futile gesture.
Fortunately the number of people who disagree with the contention that the First Amendment “goes too far” is also the highest in survey history, 81 percent. But after the 2001 terrorist attacks that number fell to 47 percent.
First Amendment Center Senior Vice President Gene Policinski said of that gap:
“It tells me there isn’t a great deal of knowledge and depth about those freedoms, and we’re one terrorist attack or one major incident from a lot of people saying, ‘We’ve got to surrender some freedom in the hope of getting security.’ But I think that’s a very dangerous place to be.”
You download the entire survey.
View a video of First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson and Policinski discussing the findings in this year’s survey:
Here are some comments by yours truly on past State of the First Amendment surveys.
In 2000 I wrote, “The survey also found a vein of stop-me-before-I-vote-again-based-solely-on-stupid-TV-ads. There are 68 percent who would restrict campaign contributions from private companies or unions, 57 percent who’d restrict individual contributions and 53 percent who’d restrict candidates using their own money.”
In 2001 I wrote, “On the other hand, we do seem to be coming to our senses on that nonsensical proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it illegal to desecrate a U.S. flag. Opposition has risen from 48 percent just two years ago to 59 percent now.
“But, flip-flopping all over the logic spectrum, somehow Americans can tolerate flag burning as a form of speech but not the spending of one’s own money. Sixty percent said limiting the money a person may give to a political party does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech protection.”
Then in post-9/11 2002 I observed, “And 27 percent think the press should not be allowed to publish without government approval. Forty-two percent don’t think the press should be allowed to criticize the U.S. military.
“File this concluding observation under the ignorance-is-bliss heading. Only 28 percent thought the American education system is doing a poor job of teaching students about the First Amendment.”
I remarked on the propensity to censor in 2003, “It was no surprise to me when the latest annual survey on the ‘State of the First Amendment’ by the First Amendment Center found less then half of all Americans (48 percent) strongly agree with the concept that ‘newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story.’ Twenty-eight percent disagreed and thought the government should approve a story before it appears in print.”
First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”