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Survey: First Amendment Guarantees Too Many Rights

Ever begrudged your rights? Well, according to the annual State of the First Amendment survey by the First Amendment Center, nearly half of all Americans said the First Amendment guarantees too many rights.

For the first time in the survey’s six-year history, nearly half (49 percent) of those surveyed said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.” This represented a 10-percentage-point jump from 2001.

“The stakes have risen for the First Amendment in the wake of September 11,” Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, said in a press release. “The results of our 2002 survey suggest that many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism.”

Paulson also said: “That’s not to suggest a monolithic response to these core First Amendment values. In truth, Americans are of multiple minds about the 45 words drafted by James Madison. While a majority says they respect the First Amendment, a significant percentage seems inclined to rewrite it.”

The survey also revealed that four in 10 Americans would limit the academic freedom of professors and outlaw criticism of government military policy. And about half of those surveyed said the government should monitor religious groups “in the interest of national security, even if that means infringing upon religious freedom.”

Four in 10 said the government should pay especially close attention to the activities of Muslims.

The survey also revealed that many Americans are unable to name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Fifty-eight percent could name freedom of speech, 18 percent named freedom of religion, 14 percent named freedom of the press, 10 percent named freedom of assembly and only 2 percent named the freedom of petition.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.