Every year, the First Amendment Center publishes a report gauging public awareness of what’s in the First Amendment. And every year, the results are discouraging. As Aaron Blake noted, “The American people are low-information voters.”
[T]heir lack of information doesn’t just apply to the candidates they vote for or the issues that are important to them; it also applies to some of the most basic founding principles of this country – up to and including the First Amendment.The First Amendment Center has conducted yearly studies asking people their opinions of certain freedoms and how far they extend. But before they get to that point, they ask people to simply name the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment.
I put together the above chart to show how the public did. Freedom of Speech fared well, though 68% recognition hardly seems impressive, and from there the totals drop off considerably. Just 29% volunteered Freedom of Religion; 14% said Freed of the Press; 7% knew the Right to Peaceably Assemble; and just 1% named the Right to Petition the Government.
A painful 29% – nearly a third of the country – couldn’t identify any of the rights in the First Amendment.
And that’s just the basic knowledge portion of the report. The results look even more discouraging when respondents were asked for their opinions.
Some of the tidbits that jumped out at me:
* The First Amendment Center found that 38% of Americans believe the First Amendment goes too far – the highest in over a decade.
* 38% also believe journalists should be required to reveal confidential sources “in order to make the United States safer.”
* A 66% majority believes corporations should be able to exercise their religious beliefs, just like actual people.
It would appear civil libertarians have some work to do.
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Public struggles with First Amendment basics