Students, Teachers Swap Positions On First Amendment

American high school students are more protective than ever of their First Amendment rights, a new survey shows.

According to a survey conducted by the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes quality journalism, only 24 percent of U.S. high schoolers agree with the statement “The First Amendment goes too far.” This contrasts with 38 percent of U.S. teachers who feel that way.

While it may be expected that students are highly defensive of personal freedom, the outcome is actually a major reversal of past history. The Knight Foundation, which conducted the survey, has conducted it a total of five times since 2004, and this is the first time students have been more protective of the First Amendment than their instructors. In 2006, a whopping of 45 percent of high-schoolers felt that that the First Amendment went too far, compared to only 23 percent of teachers.

Students indicated their rising support for the First Amendment in other ways in the poll. For example, 61 percent said that newspapers should be able to publish whatever they like without government approval, up from just 51 percent a decade ago. Similarly, 90 percent said there should be an absolute right to express unpopular opinions; as recently as 2007 only 76 percent thought as such.

Young students value the different rights of the First Amendment differently as well. When asked which of the First Amendment’s protections is most important, 65 percent of high schools said freedom of speech was most important, followed by freedom of religion in a distant second at 25 percent. Teachers, meanwhile, held freedom of religion as the most important right with 42 percent identifying it as such, followed by 40 percent valuing speech most highly.

The major shift could reflect that today’s high-schoolers are the first to grow up with the Internet as an integral component of their entire lives. Students were more likely to believe in the First Amendment if they were avid users of social media, mobile devices, and other trappings of modern technology.

The poll results were based on a survey of 10,463 students as well as 588 teachers, conducted from March to June 2014. The margin of error for students was plus or minus one percentage point, while for teachers it was plus or minus four percentage points.

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