USA TODAY US Edition
Survey shows First Amendment support endures
Opinions shift in favor of faith after shootings in Orlando
Despite the heated headlines after the Orlando shooting, a survey released Friday shows that nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents, or 64%, said the First Amendment is intended to protect all faiths, underscoring the nation’s commitment to freedom of expression and religion.
“There was a burst of anti-Islam rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the shootings that was followed by public criticism of calls for increased surveillance of Muslims and religious profiling,” said Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, whose First Amendment Center conducted the annual State of the First Amendment study in partnership with USA TODAY. “After that public debate, there was a noticeable shift in opinion in favor of the religious liberty protection for even non-mainstream faiths in this nation.”
The non-profit institute, the programs and initiatives arm of the Newseum, a museum of news in Washington, conducted a survey after the mass shooting June 12 in Orlando to gauge people’s perception of the First Amendment as it applies to protecting all faiths.
While the tragedy was fresh in their minds, 22% said the First Amendment was not intended to protect faiths that survey respondents considered to hold “fringe and extreme beliefs.” That’s lower than the 29% from a survey conducted in the days before the Orlando tragedy.
“There was a pushback,” Policinski said. “They may be saying, ‘It could be my faith next.’ ”
Americans clearly hold dear the values of the First Amendment, even if many of them have vague ideas on what exactly they are. Nearly nine in 10 respondents, 86%, said they favored “protecting speech,” while only 10% favored limits aimed at “protecting people from hearing things that offend them.”
Yet 39% of Americans could not name a single First Amendment freedom: religion, speech, press, assembly or petition.
Americans’ perception of the role of the media is evolving, the survey found.
Nearly three in four, or 74%, said the news media are biased in reporting, in part reflecting the growing comfort of some news organizations in acknowledging their editorial bent and consumers’ appetite for opinionated coverage that supports their views. Yet 71% said they consider the media’s role as government watchdog important.
Nearly a quarter of the respondents, 23%, said 2016 presidential election coverage has been “very inaccurate,” while only 10% said it’s been “very accurate.”
The survey queried 1,006 adults.
“There was a burst of anti-Islam rhetoric ... followed by public criticism of calls for increased surveillance of Muslims.” Gene Policinski, Newseum Institute