Freedom Sings for One and All. (Convention Presentation)

By Thomas, Cal | The Masthead, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Freedom Sings for One and All. (Convention Presentation)


Thomas, Cal, The Masthead


What do you know about the First Amendment? That it protects freedom of religion and speech? What else? That it protects freedom of the press and the right of the people to peacefully demonstrate when they object to something their government is doing, or trying to do?

If you know all of these things about the First Amendment, you are more knowledgeable than most of your fellow citizens.

Perhaps this ignorance is what accounts for the shockingly high number of people (41% according to the poll) who "strongly agree" that the First Amendment "goes too far in the rights it guarantees." Eight percent "mildly agree" with that statement. These numbers, already high when the first poll was taken in 1997, have been trending upward over the last five years

According to an annual poll conducted by the First Amendment Center and American Journalism Review (AJR), in conjunction with the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, just 14% know that freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Constitution, 18% are aware that freedom of religion is protected, 10% know they have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble, and a minuscule 2% think they can petition their government to redress grievances.

More than 40% of respondents in this year's poll said that newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military's strategy and performance. About half think the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism. More than four in 10 say they would limit the academic freedom of professors and ban criticism of government military policy.

Fear can limit freedom, as President George W. Bush noted when he addressed the nation on September 20, 2001. He said, "The terrorists hate our freedom: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

A major contributor to the vast ignorance about the First Amendment is our education system, which fails to teach the Constitution. The First Amendment Center, based in Nashville, is doing something about that. It has created an audiovisual presentation called "Freedom Sings. …

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