The First Amendment is an important reminder of the rights we enjoy – and must protect
The First Amendment binds us as Americans, but most citizens cannot name its five freedoms – religion, speech, press, meeting, and petition.
In this simmering season of division and mistrust, there’s one thing we pretty much all agree on: We cherish the First Amendment.
Saturday is the First Amendment, a day to celebrate the document that allows all Americans – without government interference – to practice a faith or not, speak freely, post ideas, come together to support or protest and to ask the government to change. It marks the day in 1789 when Congress sent the amendments that became the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution to the states for approval.
To welcome the occasion, the Freedom Forum – an organization dedicated to promoting First Amendment freedoms for all – will release a survey conducted in July and August 2020, when we asked more than 3,000 Americans what they thought of the First Amendment today. Our respondents came from all corners of the country and varied by age, gender, race and economic background – a true representation of our diverse nation.
Almost all consider the 1st Amendment to be vital
The big takeaway from the survey, titled “The First Amendment: Where Does America Stand?” Amid our disagreements over everything from politics to the pandemic, one value unites the vast majority of us: 94% of respondents – across generations and across the political spectrum – see the First Amendment as “vital.” .
But we don’t agree on much else on this subject. Some discoveries surprised us – and we’ve been asking Americans about this since 1997:
- More than a third of Americans would give up free speech to get rid of hate speech, but almost an equal number support unhindered freedom of speech.
- 69% say social media sites should be held responsible for posting false or misleading information.
- People are also divided (37% to 37%) on whether business owners should have to respond to requests from customers who violate their religious beliefs, while the rest of the respondents disagree. nor disagree.
- Almost 60% say the news media should act as watchdogs over the powerful, but only 14% trust journalists.
- 75% don’t think government mandates due to COVID-19 infringe on rights to assembly, expression and religion, but 1 in 4 people disagree.
- In a year when racial injustice protests have swept the country, most people – 69% – have never participated in a demonstration, rally or march.
- 73% of people have signed a petition, but only 14% could name it as one of the five freedoms of the First Amendment.
Understanding your rights is vital
The First Amendment binds us together as Americans. It protects our right to express our deepest beliefs in word and deed. Yet most Americans cannot name the five freedoms it guarantees – religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. In order to preserve and protect these fundamental rights for future generations, we must all know, understand, value and defend these freedoms not only for ourselves, but also for each other. Even those with whom we do not agree.
The 45 words of the First Amendment guarantee freedom of speech, but the spirit of the First Amendment calls for more: speak and be heard. To listen.
Because from the market of ideas more than 200 years ago, American democracy was born. It does not serve us all in the same way. But the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment allow us to speak the truth to power, bring injustice to light, and ignite – or oppose – change. It is by exercising our First Amendment freedoms that we can ensure that our democracy lives up to its highest ideals for all Americans.
On Saturday, celebrate the First Amendment by doing something to promote the diversity of experiences and perspectives that define our democracy. Share your deepest beliefs with someone. Cross a political divide or your family table and debate the news. Support your local media by subscribing. Join a new group on social media and explore perspectives different from yours. Sign a petition for a cause you support.
And toast that we all share these First Amendment freedoms, not just when we exercise them for ourselves, but when we stand up for the rights of others to do the same.
Jan Neuharth is President and CEO of the Freedom Forum. Follow her on Twitter: @JanNeuharth