First Amendment Rights Survey Shows Troubling Trend

Jul 19, 2013

Dr. Ken Paulson

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT) – An increasing number of Americans say the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to the State of the First Amendment national survey. 

Conducted since 1997, the survey gauges the public’s knowledge and opinions about First Amendment rights.

According to the latest results, more than a third of Americans say the First Amendment provides too much liberty. That finding represents a 13 percent increase from last year, the largest single-year increase in the history of the survey.

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center sponsors the survey. Ken Paulson is the Center's President. He says that following events like 9-11 and most recently, the Boston Marathon Bombings, people tend to be more negative about First Amendment freedoms. 

"We can’t afford to be afraid to be free, and yet there is this correlation. If there is a national crisis, especially one that’s violent, people tend to be less supportive of liberty, and that’s unsettling."

Paulson says the survey reinforces the need for more First Amendment education and believes that understanding these freedoms will make people more likely to protect them.

Underscoring Paulson’s call for more education is the fact that many people could not name all five freedoms in the First Amendment. Over half of those surveyed named freedom of speech; only 4 percent could name petition.

"It’s interesting that despite the fact that only 4 percent of Americans can identify the freedoms of the First Amendment, all five freedoms, they feel so strongly about freedom of speech. It’s clearly the runaway favorite."

Dr. Paulson recently accepted the position of Dean of the School of Mass Communications at Middle Tennessee University.