The public generally supports the values of the First Amendment, though it is more willing to accept restrictions on speech than the courts would likely allow. Now, if only the public knew what the First Amendment protects. Those are some conclusions to be drawn from the annual State of the First Amendment survey released in D.C. on Constitution Day yesterday by the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center.
In the survey of 1,005 adults, the first question asked what specific rights were protected by the First Amendment. Only 3 percent named the right to petition, while 56 percent mentioned freedom of speech, 15 percent said it protected freedom of the press, 15 percent cited religious freedom, and 14 percent named freedom of assembly. Detailed results can be found at this link.
The interviewees were then read the text of the First Amendment and asked whether they think it goes too far in protecting the rights it guarantees. Fifty-nine percent strongly disagreed that it goes too far, the highest number in the decade or so the survey has been taken. Forty-nine percent said the amount of freedom enjoyed by the press is "just about right," and 62 percent said the same about religious freedom.
On some specific issues, 66 percent of respondents said broadcasters should be required to give equal time to conservative and liberal commentators, and 62 percent said the same requirement should be imposed on newspapers (so much for Miami Herald v. Tornillo.) Cable broadcasters will be happy to know that only 39 percent of respondents said the content regulations imposed on broadcast stations should be extended to cable.
Opposition to a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag has continued to rise, with 57 percent saying no to an amendment up from 49 percent 11 years ago. And 54 percent of those polled said bloggers should have the same First Amendment protection as newspaper journalists.
The poll also asked a question that might be a scare for traditional news media. "If print newspapers were replaced by Internet and electronic news sources, would that increase, decrease or not change your access to news?" Forty-nine percent said no change, 12 percent said the demise of newspapers would increase their access to news, and only 37 percent said it would decrease their access to news.