Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 25, 2012

Americans protective of 1st freedoms

Americans once again don't run up big positive numbers in an annual First Amendment Center survey when it comes to being able to name all five freedoms in the opening 45 words of the Bill of Rights.

But once reminded of "religion, speech, press, assembly and petition," they do have some strong opinions about how those freedoms ought to work.

The annual State of the First Amendment national survey was released recently. For all of the results from this and past years, see www.firstamendmentcenter.org.

The 2012 survey shows that although just 4 percent of us can name all five freedoms, and only "speech" is named by more than half of respondents, we're pretty protective of our rights. We support videotaping police, think it's OK to use copyrighted material just for fun, and oppose giving the government too much power over the Internet, even in a national emergency.

Just 4 percent of the 1,006 adults sampled in this year's survey — conducted in June for the First Amendment Center — could name "petition," and just 13 percent could name either "press" or "assembly." There were some slightly encouraging results: 28 percent identified "religion" and 65 percent cited "speech." Though not exactly jump-for-joy figures, both were the highest for those freedoms since the survey began in 1997.

But once past that opening question, participants were reminded of all five freedoms — and generally a majority took a protective stance when it came to "their" freedoms.

Just 13 percent said the First Amendment "goes too far in the rights it guarantees," the lowest figure ever on that question. Still, that means about one in eight of our fellow citizens would cut back on some part of the First Amendment — even though in much of the world, people are willing to risk lives and liberty to get even a portion of the rights that we have enjoyed since 1791.

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