Americans love freedom. We just a spent a weekend dedicated to celebrating it and the founding of our nation. We’re quick to hail the rights guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights and we’re increasingly relying on them to protect our freedom. However, do Americans even understand what those rights are?
The First Amendment Center for the national Newseum Institute teaming up with USA TODAY released its State of the First Amendment report for 2015. According to the report, 75 percent of Americans don’t think the First Amendment goes far enough in ensuring our freedom – a big increase from last year when 57 percent said the same thing. Conversely, one year ago 38 percent said the First Amendment goes too far, but currently only 19 percent agree with the sentiment.
Perhaps the real story is how little Americans know about our First Amendment Rights. This is what happens when you shortchange the American history and our founding in K-12 civics lessons. Fewer Americans actually understand what protections are afforded. One third can’t name any of the rights under the First Amendment at all. Just over half (57 percent) could cite freedom of speech compared to 68 percent a year ago. Only 19 percent cited the freedom of religion –down from 29 percent last year – and just ten percent mentioned the freedom of the press. A woefully low 2 percent even mentioned the right to petition. (By the way, the First Amendment restricts the government from establishing a national religion or limiting the exercise of our faith; limiting our freedom of speech; limiting the freedom of the press; limiting our ability to assemble; and limiting our ability to petition the government when it wrongs us.)
Other interesting findings:
· More than half (54 percent) say the government should not be allowed to spy on anyone’s online messages and phone calls.
· Nearly three in four (73 percent) think corporations and unions should not be allowed to spend as much money as they want on elections.
· A strong majority (67 percent) think people should be allowed to record or photograph police activities in public as long as they don’t interfere with what the police are doing and a similar majority (62 percent) want police “body-cams” to be part of the public record.
Perceptions among Americans are demonstrably impacted by recent events in the criminal justice sphere as well as national security.
However, while we support freedom of the press, we don’t trust the press to tell us the truth.
Americans are also skeptical about the news media's claim to objectivity. Only about a quarter — 24% — believe that the news media try to report on news without bias, a 17-point drop from last year. It's the lowest since the study first began asking this question in 2004.
A flurry of headlines in recent months about the journalistic sins of high-profile media personalities – Brian Williams, who was demoted at NBC for lying; and ABC's George Stephanopoulos, a former aide to then-President Bill Clinton whose contribution to the Clinton Foundation came to light recently — may have negatively influenced respondents' feelings about the news media, the study said.
Older audiences are more likely to buy into the media's mantle of objectivity, with 26% of those 50 or older agreeing with the claim. Only 7% of 18-29 year olds agree. Democrats (36%) are much more likely to believe in the the news media try to report without bias as opposed to Republicans (19%).
That we are a nation of people who are free to speak, assemble, and exercise their faith distinguishes us from so many nations. It's a travesty that so many Americans are ignorant of their rights. We can't rely on the press to educate us as they have serious biases
We're left to hope that schools will do the job but given today's numbers, that's not a hopeful prospect.