The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms to the people of the United States: freedom of and from religion, and the rights to free speech, press, assembly and petition.
So, after receiving the First Amendment Press Freedom award (FAPFA) for the past two years (the fifth time overall), MTHS students’ knowledge of the First Amendment became a topic of interest on campus.
Do students at MTHS actually know as much as one might think about the First Amendment?
As a matter of context, according to the State of the First Amendment, a survey conducted by the Freedom Forum, which surveyed hundreds of adults across the United States, 29 percent of Americans surveyed couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
After administering a survey based on the State of the First Amendment to students at MTHS, the Hawkeye found that a greater percentage of students here could recite each of the five freedoms of the First Amendment than the adults surveyed by the Freedom Forum.
Compared to the Freedom Forum’s survey in which 68 percent of people could cite freedom of speech, 79 percent of MTHS students could accurately name the same freedom. An even greater gap appears between Hawks’ and national respondents’ knowledge of the freedom of religion, at 54 and 29 percent, respectively.
The Bill of Rights – including the First Amendment – was added to the constitution in part to ensure that citizens could express their dissatisfaction with the government and keep public officials in check, especially through the press.
“The founding fathers understood the importance that for a free society, you must have a well informed populace and the only way to have a well informed populace is to have a free press,” broadcast journalism instructor and HBN adviser Angelo Comeaux said.
This mentality has persisted throughout the history of the United States and remains important to students today. Although just 14 percent of adults surveyed could name the freedom of press, MTHS survey respondents more than doubled that at 38 percent.
While religion, press and speech might be more recognizable to the general public, the right to assemble and petition the government are equally important.
While one fourth of MTHS students were able to identify the right to assemble, it may seem shocking that just 7 percent of people surveyed by the Freedom Forum were also able to do so.
The freedom to petition the government was the First Amendment right that the fewest number of respondents could name. The Hawkeye’s survey revealed that 12 percent of MTHS students were able to recall the right to petition, compared to a mere 1 percent of respondents from the Freedom Forum survey.
Overall, fewer MTHS students were unable to name any of the five freedoms than their adult counterparts. Compared to the 29 percent of American adults surveyed by the Freedom Forum, just 21 percent of MTHS students failed to name any.
The Hawkeye also used questions similar to those of another student survey regarding the First Amendment administered by the Knight Foundation, an organization whose goal is to “preserve the best aspects of journalism and use innovation to expand the impact of information in the digital age.”
Although some may believe that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, this is not true for a majority of MTHS students or a majority of adults and students throughout the country.
The surveys revealed that 74 percent of MTHS students and 53 percent of students nationwide believe that the First Amendment does not go too far. The Freedom Forum asked a similar question, in which 67 percent of adults didn’t think so, either.