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24 March 2017
Morning Sedition

Just Zip It

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A few weeks ago I blogged about Abraham Lincoln, American Fascist and his war on free speech and individual rights. Before that I'd blogged about the Freedom to Not Listen and the origins of the First Amendment in the John Peter Zenger case. So when I saw the results of the two-year, one million dollar study comissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on awareness of the First Ammendment among students and teachers, it was understandable that I'd be interested. Turns out that I'd also be appalled.

First, it must be pointed out that the foundation was not started by right-wing or left-wing ideologues, but journalists:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was established in 1950 as a private foundation independent of the Knight brothers' newspaper enterprises. It is dedicated to furthering their ideals of service to community, to the highest standards of journalistic excellence and to the defense of a free press.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Having established their bona fides, here are the details about the participants:

A national study commissoned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut says that America's high schools are leaving the First Amendment behind. Educators are not giving high school students an appreciation of free speech and free press, according to the study researchers, who questioned more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 principals and administrators.

Press Release

The "Future of First Amendment" Report itself is highly disturbing:

The words of the First Amendment - 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 - do not change, but how we interpret them does. In recent years, in fact, annual surveys of adult Americans conducted by The Freedom Forum show that public support for the First Amendment is neither universal nor stable: it rises and falls during times of national crisis. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the nation was almost evenly split on the question of whether or not the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.’’ Not until 2004 did America’s support for the First Amendment return to pre 9-11 levels, when it received support from only about two-thirds of the population. Even in the best of times, 30 percent of Americans feel that the First Amendment, the centuries-old cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, “goes too far.’’

Administrators say student learning about the First Amendment is a priority, but not a high priority.

"Future of First Amendment" Report

Sure. You know what is a priority to these "educators"? Football. Here are some of the key findings guaranteed to give you the willies:

1. High school students tend to express little appreciation for the First Amendment. Nearly threefourths say either they don’t know how they feel about it or take it for granted.

2. Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

3. Students lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment. Seventy-five percent incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal. Nearly half erroneously believe the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.

4. Students who do not participate in any media-related activities are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn or deface the American flag. Students who have taken more media and/or First Amendment classes are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.

Study

The actual numbers are even more frightening:

  • Only 50% of students believe "newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories"
  • Only 83% of students believe "People should be allowed to express unpopular opinions"
  • Only 70% of students believe "Musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics others may find offensive"
  • Only 25% of students believe "Americans have the legal right to burn the American flag as a means of political protest"

Welcome to Red-State America where the only speech you get is what the government says you need.

Photograph of a pistol on a computer laptop keyboard

You can have my First Amendment when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. (As the saying goes, the Second Amendment guarantees all the others.)

Sources and Further Reading

  1. John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release
  2. "Future of First Amendment" Report

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