Nearly half of all Americans can't name 'a single First Amendment freedom,' survey finds

Posted July 13

A new survey of Americans found sweeping support for constitutional rights, including free speech and religious freedom, yet 4 in 10 respondents were unable to list "a single First Amendment freedom."

The survey titled, "The 2016 State of the First Amendment," was conducted by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, offering a lens into the way in which the American public views the U.S. Constitution in the modern era.

The results showed that many Americans are simply unaware of the protections enshrined in the First Amendment, which reads:

"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."

According to the First Amendment Center, 39 percent of the 1,006 respondents in the annual survey were unable to name any of these protections — paradigms that are in many ways fundamental to the American experience.

Considering the ongoing battles over the balance between religious conscience and gay rights, the survey's faith findings are noteworthy. Of particular significance is the fact that most see a healthy level of religious freedom in the U.S.

"Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe that Americans have the right amount of religious freedom, up 5 percentage points since the question was last asked in 2008," the report reads.

Additionally, 23 percent of Americans believe that citizens have "too little religious freedom," with 6 percent saying people have too much religious freedom. The First Amendment Center said these proportions have been "fairly consistent" over the years since the question was first asked back in 1997.

And in the wake of the battle over defiant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis' refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses last year, respondents were also asked their views on whether the government should be able to force officials to grant licenses, with the survey finding intense disagreement over the issue.

While 50 percent agreed that this can be mandated, 43 percent disagreed. More specifically, 35 percent strongly agreed and an additional 35 percent strongly disagreed, showcasing just how intense views are on the contentious subject.

The survey also found that people tend to favor personal views and speech over protecting people from offensive messages.

"When given the choice between 'protecting people’s ability to say what they want' or 'protecting people from hearing things that offend them,' the vast majority of Americans (86 percent) stated that they believe protecting speech is more important," the study read. "One‐tenth of respondents (10 percent) stated that protecting people from being offended is more important."

Through additional questions, the survey assessed views on the media, among other related First Amendment concerns, though it did not wade into the issue of Christian-owned businesses being mandated to make cakes or perform other services for same-sex weddings — yet another hotly contested issue.

The battle over First Amendment rights for private institutions — which was also not addressed in the survey — also appears to be heating up, with two churches in Iowa demanding this week that the state change language in a government brochure titled, "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity."

The document, which is currently active and listed on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission website, serves as a guide for institutions that provide public accommodations, and says that churches could fall under anti-discrimination laws that govern transgender bathroom rules.

One Iowa church is suing and another is demanding that the government change the language and stop "claiming it has the authority to interfere with churches’ doctrine and operation."

Email: Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook:


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all