Today, the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute announced the results of its annual State of the First Amendment survey, which discovered that the public has generally become more knowledgeable about rights under the First Amendment over the past year. Seventy-one percent of respondents were able to correctly name at least one First Amendment right, nearly a 20 percent increase compared to 2018 survey results. The survey has been published since 1997 and was conducted in partnership with Fors Marsh Group, an applied research company. Each year, this survey reveals Americans’ changing attitudes toward the essential five freedoms of the First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Review the complete survey here.
Despite broader public awareness, many misconceptions surrounding the First Amendment remain prevalent today. Sixteen percent of those surveyed said that the right to bear arms was guaranteed by the First Amendment, up from 9 percent in 2018, while two-thirds (65 percent) agreed that social media companies violate users’ First Amendment rights when they ban users based on objectionable content they post.
Of concern for First Amendment advocates is that more people agreed that the First Amendment went too far, rising to 29 percent from 23 percent in 2018 — emphasizing the importance of work to increase public understanding of how the freedoms of the First Amendment are applied in daily life, and how they help define what it means to be an American.
On a positive note, most respondents (77 percent) agreed that misinformation on the internet and the spread of fake news is a serious threat to democracy, and most agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as a watchdog on government (72 percent). This improved trust in journalism encourages champions of the press across the country.
Additionally, many support the First Amendment rights of student journalists as well as the larger media industry. Two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents agreed that public school students do not need approval from school authorities to report on controversial issues in their school newspapers.
Also enlightening were reactions to questions surrounding religious freedom. Support for the First Amendment rights of religious minorities has increased by 25 percent in the past two years. Now 82 percent of those surveyed agree that the freedom to worship extends to all religious groups, even those considered extreme or fringe.
Overall, the results of 2019’s survey showed continued efforts to educate the public about its First Amendment freedoms are critical, and that increased awareness can result in increased public support.