Com­men­tary A love-hate re­la­tion­ship

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - OPINION -

Com­mon prac­tice for lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives now is to take turns call­ing each other en­e­mies of the First Amend­ment.

The re­sults of this year’s “State of the First Amend­ment” sur­vey gave us the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider th­ese in­sults — and af­ter the num­bers are crunched, who is the real en­emy of the First Amend­ment? Well, no one. And, ev­ery­one. Most of our fel­low cit­i­zens, re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, are quite fond of the First Amend­ment, at least in the ab­stract.

The peo­ple who think that the First Amend­ment goes too far are a mi­nor­ity — 22.5 per­cent of us.

A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans (67.7 per­cent) thinks that the press plays an im­por­tant role as a watch­dog on gov­ern­ment; a slightly nar­rower ma­jor­ity (58.8 per­cent) thinks that free­dom of re­li­gion should ex­tend to all reli­gious groups, even those widely con­sid­ered extreme or fringe.

That’s the good news: Even in a time of great po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, we’re gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of the First Amend­ment’s pro­tec­tions.

The bad news: When it comes down to spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tions of the First Amend­ment, we’re less pos­i­tive, and also deeply di­vided along ide­o­log­i­cal lines.

Both lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives have cer­tain pain points where they balk at the amount of pro­tec­tion that the First Amend­ment pro­vides.

Lib­er­als are more likely than con­ser­va­tives to think:

• Col­leges should be able to ban speak­ers with con­tro­ver­sial views.

• Peo­ple should not be able to ex­press racist com­ments on so­cial me­dia. Mean­while, con­ser­va­tives are more likely than lib­er­als to think:

• Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who leak in­for­ma­tion to the press should be pros­e­cuted.

• Jour­nal­ists should not be able to pub­lish in­for­ma­tion ob­tained il­le­gally, even if it serves the pub­lic in­ter­est.

• Gov­ern­ment should be able to de­ter­mine which me­dia out­lets can at­tend brief­ings.

• Gov­ern­ment should be able to hold Mus­lims to a higher stan­dard of scru­tiny.

Worth not­ing: Some of th­ese dif­fer­ences in at­ti­tude may not be a di­rect re­sult of whether you’re a lib­eral or a con­ser­va­tive; in­stead, they might be cir­cum­stan­tial.

Do more lib­er­als sup­port press free­doms be­cause that’s a core value of lib­eral ide­ol­ogy — or be­cause the press is a watch­dog on the gov­ern­ment, which lib­er­als don’t cur­rently con­trol?

Do more con­ser­va­tives think that col­leges shouldn’t be able to ban speak­ers be­cause of a greater com­mit­ment to free speech — or be­cause most banned speak­ers, at least in re­cent years, have tended to be con­ser­va­tive?

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see in sub­se­quent years if at­ti­tudes change as cir­cum­stances change.

One thing that unites the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans right now: Most of us, lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives, pre­fer to read or lis­ten to news that aligns with our own views.

That’s true even if you think that the news me­dia reports with a bias, as most Amer­i­cans do (56.8 per­cent).

Ap­par­ently, we’re not in­clined to cor­rect that bias by tak­ing in mul­ti­ple and var­ied news sources.

In­stead, we’re more likely to dou­ble down on the news that fits in with our pre-ex­ist­ing ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tives.

This find­ing is both ob­vi­ous and dis­heart­en­ing: Ev­ery­one likes read­ing and hear­ing news that confirms what they al­ready be­lieved.

That’s one of the fac­tors that keep us so di­vided.

That’s the good news: Even in a time of great po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, we’re gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of the First Amend­ment’s pro­tec­tions.

Lata Nott is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Amend­ment Cen­ter of the New­seum In­sti­tute. Con­tact her via email at lnott@new­seum.org, or fol­low her on Twit­ter at @LataNott.

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