The Freedom Forum Institute (FFI) — formerly the Newseum Institute and headquartered in Washington, D.C.— released its 2018 State of the First Amendment survey recently. And while the results were first presented in late June, the survey is still getting attention.
That’s because the results paint a picture of American citizens who have very little clue about their constitutionally recognized rights and guaranteed freedoms. (The results by this organization are published online.)
The survey respondents had varying political views, with 22 percent self-identifying as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats, and 40 percent as independents.
The survey found that 49 percent of the 1,009 respondents identified as male and 51 percent as female. The average age of respondents was 48 — ranging in age from 18 all the way to 99. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were white (63 percent), 11 percent black, and 16 percent identified as Hispanic.
The respondents were asked to name as many of the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment as they could.
“Without any prompting, freedom of speech (56 percent) was the most commonly recalled right guaranteed by the First Amendment. The next was freedom of religion (15 percent), freedom of the press (13 percent), and right of assembly (12 precent), with right to petition being the least likely to be recalled (2 percent). A similar number (2 percent) mistakenly guessed the right to vote. The right to bear arms (9 percent) was the most common mistaken response,” FFI summarized.
There were also statistically significant differences among those who could recall certain freedoms, noted the survey. Younger people (ages 18-34) were more likely than older respondents to recall freedom of religion and the press, while more educated, higher-income respondents were more likely to recall freedom of speech.
More educated respondents were also able to name more freedoms overall.
Surprisingly, those with a religious identity were slightly less likely to be able to name freedom of religion (13 percent) than those who were not religious (17 percent).
Astonishingly, at least according to this poll, 40 percent could not name a single freedom or right expressed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, a foundational amendment of the Bill of Rights, according to this survey. Only a single respondent correctly acknowledged all five freedoms as follows:
- Freedom of speech
- Free exercise of religion
- Freedom of assembly
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom to petition the government
The full text of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Those weren’t the only worrisome findings from the survey. Seventy percent believed a college speaker whose speech could be met with violence should be disinvited, and 51 percent thought a speaker should be removed if that person’s appearance elicited large-scale protests.
An overwhelming majority of respondents felt that social media companies should remove the following kinds of speech: false information (83 percent), hate speech (72 percent), and personal attacks (68 percent).
The Freedom Forum Institute (FFI) recently released their annual "State of the First Amendment" (SOFA) survey, and the results are… https://t.co/xWL4VS0UPA
— InfoWire (@infowires) August 5, 2018
Interestingly, most respondents said they believe the First Amendment protects a baker from forcibly baking a cake that is decorated with a message with which he or she disagrees.
A fascinating finding is that those who were familiar with their constitutional rights were highly unlikely to support government-mandated censorship of opinion.
“Eighty-seven percent of those who were familiar with four of the five First Amendment freedoms disagreed … the government should require social media sites to monitor and remove objectionable content,” the study found.
While the mainstream media and schools and colleges across the country right now focus on progressive “social justice” issues, these results show a troubling lack of foundational understanding of this nation’s supreme law.
Sure, it’s one survey at one point in time — and the sample of people queried was only about 1,000. Clearly more studies should be done; more examination is in order.
But the time for America’s schools to get serious about teaching our constitutional rights and freedoms is right now, to be sure.