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Monday, January 31, 2005

Students Think First Amendment Rights Go "Too Far"

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.

That's the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution -- a guiding principle of our nation that men and women have fought for for over 200 years. Yet when asked about it in a recent survey, more than one in three high school students believed the First Amendment goes "too far" in protecting individual freedoms.

The survey revealed other alarming attitudes among high schoolers. For instance, half the students felt that the government should approve news stories prior to their release, and 17% believed that people should not be allowed to express unpopular views.

The majority of the students also displayed a poor understanding of what is protected under the Bill of Rights. For instance, most did not realize that controversial forms of protest such as flag burning were legal.

The survey suggests that students are simply not informed about the Constitution, and that schools are doing a poor job in teaching civics and motivating students to take an interest in government. However, a follow-up study would be useful to gain a deeper understanding of exactly why high school students hold these beliefs. Are they simply ill-informed? Or are they actually more reactionary than the older generation? Are these beliefs held across the board, or do they represent a specific subset of students? If students were to learn more about politics, government and American history, would that change the way they feel about the First Amendment?

Source: CNN.com