Jan 24, 2018
An Antagonistic Presidential Administration Caused the Press Freedom “Grade” to Suffer, While Freedoms of Speech and Assembly Saw Slight Improvement.
WASHINGTON — Today the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center released its quarterly “report card” on the state of the First Amendment. The composite grade point average for the five freedoms of the First Amendment increased slightly in the winter of 2018, from 2.25 to 2.29 (a C+). Individual grades stand as such: religion (C+); speech (C+); press (C); assembly (C+); petition (B-).
The report card series was launched in April 2017 as a way to systematically assess the state of our core freedoms during the current presidential administration. Grades are assigned by a panel of the nation’s leading constitutional experts.
In this evaluation, the grade point averages for speech and assembly increased, the grade point average for press freedom declined, and religion and petition remained relatively stable.
“This is our fourth report card, meaning that we’ve spent one full year tracking the various threats to our core freedoms,” said Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center. “It’s been a long and very turbulent year for the First Amendment. Although the overall grade has held steady at a C+, each quarter brought a whole new set of issues and concerns for us to consider.”
The increasing number of women speaking out against sexual harassment was hailed by panelists as an important milestone for free speech. Panelists were also optimistic about the robust organization of marches across the country, which helped reverse the negative effects of last summer’s Charlottesville, Va., protests on the freedom to assemble.
Panelists refrained from assigning a new grade to freedom of religion this quarter, preferring to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the landmark religious freedom case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission this spring.
The grade assigned to press freedom dipped this quarter, with many panelists citing the Trump administration’s continued efforts to discredit the news media, as well as its attempts to challenge the publication of critical reporting. Freedom to petition continues to be the highest-rated freedom, although panelists noted that the power of ordinary Americans to effect change through petition is relatively low, as seen during the passage of the federal tax reform bill.
The 15 panelists conducting the evaluation come from across the political spectrum, and were advised to consider the following four elements when assigning grades: legislation, executive orders, judicial decisions and public opinion; and also to consider long-term trends and actions.
The next First Amendment report card will be released in April 2018. To view the previous report cards, and read more about our panelists and grading methodology, visit the Newseum Institute website.
The Freedom Forum Institute is the education and outreach partner of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum. The Institute includes the First Amendment Center, the Religious Freedom Center, the Newseum’s education department and diversity and inclusion programs. The Freedom Forum Institute’s affiliate organizations include the Al Neuharth Media Center at the University of South Dakota; the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi; and the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University. The Freedom Forum Institute is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded by generous individuals, corporations and foundations, including its principal funder, the Freedom Forum.
The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center is a forum for the study and exploration of issues related to free expression, religious freedom, and press freedom, and an authoritative source of information, news, and analysis of these issues. The Center provides education, information and entertainment to educators, students, policy makers, legal experts, and the general public. The Center is nonpartisan and does not lobby, litigate or provide legal advice. The Newseum Institute promotes the study, exploration and education of the challenges confronting freedom through its First Amendment Center and the Religious Freedom Center. The Newseum is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded by generous individuals, corporations and foundations, including the Freedom Forum. For more information, visit newseuminstitute.org or follow us on Twitter.