Poll: 34% Of Americans Think The First Amendment Gives Us Too Many Freedoms


This is downright frightening:

The Newseum Institute is out with some stunning information from its annual “State of the First Amendment” study. In asking Americans for their views on the First Amendment, the survey found that more than one-third (34 percent) of citizens believe that it goes too far in the rights that if affords.

The results are even more surprising when considering that the proportion is up significantly from last year’s results (only 13 percent of the country said the same). This, according to a press release put out by the Newseum Institute, is the largest single-year increase since the study first began in 1997.

The historical trend provides us some context. While that 34% number may seem high to most readers (it certainly shocked me), that’s not the highest it’s ever been.



Even given the fluctuation in the number of people who apparently think our 1st amendment freedoms need to be curtailed, we’re looking at a 15-year average of roughly 25% of Americans saying we’re too free to speak, publish, gather and express our faith.

The attitude manifested in these poll results, I think, is one of conceit. When people support curtailing freedoms, I suspect they rarely think of it in terms of themselves. As in, I doubt anyone in this average 25% who think the 1st amendment is too broad is thinking they’d like the government to start censoring what they say, or how they practice their religion.

They want other people’s freedoms curtailed. The problem with that view is censorship powers cut both ways. If you’re going to have free speech (and religion, etc.) you must have free speech, otherwise you have a situation where your freedoms hinge on how other people react to them.

We’ve all seen a lot of hateful examples of expression protected by the 1st amendment, from the Westboro Baptist protesters today to historical footage of the Ku Klux Klan marching on Washington DC. I take pride in those controversial displays, not because I agree with those ingrates and bigots, but because I’m proud to live in a country where even the stupidest of people have the right to speak. Or gather. Or worship. Or publish.

What makes us great isn’t our tolerance for non-controversial speech, but our tolerance for the worst kinds of speech.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • headward

    The 34% could always move to North Korea.

  • matthew_bosch

    2002 is concerning. Symptom of post 9-11 attack and the desire for more security over liberty?

    “What makes us great isn’t our tolerance for non-controversial speech, but our tolerance for the worst kinds of speech.” Well said.

    • Jonesy

      I was thinking the same thing about 2002.

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Me too, and it’s a real indication of just how powerful “crisis politics” can be.

  • Neiman

    I do not like such polls as they are too general and it is important to know why they think that way.

    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.

    I would like to know which of these rights they would delete or if edit, how. Other than religion, which is under attack now, I cannot imagine anyone thinking free speech, a free press, peaceful assembly or to petition for a redress of grievances should be limited.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    Those 34% can thank the first amendment for the priviledge to have that opinion

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob


  • Thresherman

    Huh, just about the same percentage that oppose the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I bet there is a heavy overlap.

  • JoeMN

    , I doubt anyone in this average 25% who think the 1st amendment is
    too broad is thinking they’d like the government to start censoring
    what they say, or how they practice their religion.
    They want other people’s freedoms curtailed
    But in all likelihood, they are simply holding out for some government cheese in exchange

  • kevindf

    These 34% want the freedom to take the income and assets of the other 66%!

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    Back in the o l d days we were taught—with emphasis—that freedom of speech would mean that we would hear other people say things with which we would profoundly disagree, that might even make us very angry and that we might very well want them to be silenced. It was also emphasized that we, in turn, would also say things that would make people want us to be silenced. Other people and ourselves in turn would be certain we were right. Basically, the message in this regard was “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do unto you.” It made an impression.