Support for rights in First Amendment gets boost in poll


Newseum Institute report

The Newseum Institute, in partnership with USA Today, released the results of its annual State of the First Amendment survey, which shows 19 percent of Americans think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees – the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

That is a marked change from the 2014 survey, when 38 percent said the First Amendment goes too far, according to the Newseum.

The latest findings echo a pattern seen in the surveys conducted in 2002 and 2003 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when threats to public safety and national security temporarily caused Americans to question whether First Amendment freedoms were worth the risk.

Eight months after Sept. 11, the survey found that the number of Americans who thought the First Amendment guaranteed too much freedom stood at 49 percent, only to drop to 39 percent in 2003, and as low as 13 percent in 2012.

The 2014 survey was taken in the aftermath of the 2013 terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon.

“Fear can put at risk even our most cherished freedoms, which protect our right to say, write and believe what we want, and our ability to seek change in how our government operates,” said Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute. “We would do well to consider the trends identified in this survey the next time enemies, foreign or domestic, threaten our way of life. Limiting laws enacted in a time of great fear have a permanence that our immediate reactions to threats do not.”

Though the 2015 survey was conducted in May 2015, before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage nationwide, 54 percent of respondents believed the decision would have no lasting impact on religious freedom.

This year’s survey also shows that 70 percent of Americans believe the news media is biased, the highest percentage since the survey first asked the question in 1997.

Other responses indicated 88 percent of Americans believe citizens should be able to record police activity, and 83 percent believe that any footage from police “body cams” should be part of the public record.

The annual State of the First Amendment survey has been conducted by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center since 1997 to determine public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment and related issues.

The 2015 survey was supported in part by a grant from the Gannett Foundation.