First Amendment Project update

Does the First Amendment go too far?

The Knight Foundation posed this question to high school students, teachers and principals as part of its “Future of the First Amendment” research project. The results are a cause for great concern.

Only 25% of more than 100,000 students surveyed strongly disagreed with the statement “The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.” 35% agreed with the statement.

The results obtained from the nearly 8,000 teachers surveyed were also disturbing. Only 50% of the teachers surveyed strongly disagreed with the statement. Almost 30% agreed with it.

Among the 500 principals and administrators surveyed, only 52% strongly believed that the First Amendment does not go too far. 24% believed that it did.

Other results were also disturbing:

  • Only 24% of the students surveyed strongly agreed that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without governmental approval of a story. Only 53% of the teachers and 56% of the principals strongly agreed with this essential concept of press freedom.
  • Only 30% of the students surveyed strongly agreed that high school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities. Among teachers, only 13% strongly agreed; 60% disagreed. Among principals, only 8% strongly agreed and only another 17% even mildly agreed. 75% disagreed that student journalists should have such freedoms.
  • Of the principals surveyed, only 71% strongly agreed that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions. Only 18% strongly agreed that musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive; 56% disagreed that musicians should enjoy such freedom.

To see the full survey, go to

The survey shows a distinct lack of appreciation for and understanding of both the First Amendment itself and the free speech principles upon which it is founded. And one cannot simply attribute these results to undereducated or unappreciative young people. The adult educators surveyed also showed a far weaker commitment to free speech principles than we should expect. If this is the future of the First Amendment, watch out.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us.

The First Amendment Project continues to work tirelessly to promote and protect the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, of the press and to petition the government. We continue to provide free and low cost legal representation to activists, journalists and artists sued for exercising their First Amendment rights and challenging governmental policies restricting these freedoms. We continue to produce educational materials designed to nurture an appreciation for our fundamental civil liberties and to encourage the exercise of these rights.

FAP Launches Redesigned Website

We are also proud to announce the launch of our new improved website designed by acclaimed artist and activist Clinton Fein. We hope that you will find our website to be more easy to use. Please let us now what you think.

Case Profile: Activist Sued as Racketeer

Sandy Steers is among a group of local activists in Fawnskin, CA seeking to make sure that a planned development complies with all applicable environmental laws. If built according to current plans, the development would nearly double the town’s population and threaten critical bald eagle habitat. Sandy has actively opposed the plan by petitioning to various governmental agencies and encouraging her neighbors to do the same. In response, the developer has sued Sandy under the RICO, the federal racketeering statute, alleging that Sandy’s speech and petitioning advocacy amounted to a criminal enterprise. FAP is representing Sandy pro bono. Just last week we filed a motion to dismiss the case asserting that Sandy cannot be sued for exercising her First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. A hearing on the motion is set for March 14.

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First Amendment Project
1736 Franklin Street, 9th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612