The results are mixed and trending up — but too many of us are still doubtful or altogether dark on the essential five freedoms of the First Amendment.
Each year as it has since 1997, the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute announces the results of its First Amendment Survey. The 2019 survey revealed a diversity of findings, but encouraging is that 71 percent of Americans were able to correctly name one of the five First Amendment rights — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition — a 20 percent increase above the same response in 2018.
Still, that leaves nearly 30 percent of citizens unable to recall a single freedom, a disturbing number as transferable to the general population.
Other Americans are simply uninformed of their rights as evidenced by broad misconceptions among public awareness. About 16 percent of survey respondents stated that the right to bear arms was guaranteed by the First Amendment, a 7 percent increase of that response above 2018. Also in the current survey, 65 percent of respondents said that social media companies that ban users based on objectionable content infringe on users’ First Amendment rights.
Most disturbing, showing an increase of 6 percent from 2018, 29 percent of respondents indicated that the First Amendment goes too far in ensuring our freedoms.
That nearly a third of respondents would limit the freedom ensured by our First Amendment is troubling indeed — but is this a coincidence with the percentage of Americans who can name no freedom at all? Not likely.
Education here is the baseline — and not only in being able to recite a laundry list of First Amendment freedoms. What is vital, the First Amendment Center rightly points out, is the knowledge that those freedoms are applied in our daily lives.