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The First Amendment: Loser in Wartime Popularity Contests

September 18th, 2015

firstamendment_0In light of recent tragedies across the nation that involve potential terrorist activity, it is mindful to remember that such actions occur regardless of whether a country’s government is capitalist, monarchic or dictatorial.  Jealousy and misguided anger are sometimes unfortunate side effects of the freedoms that our country provides its inhabitants.  What is lamentable, however, is the findings of one group who studied the popularity of the protections of the First Amendment during times of crisis.  What this study shows about the American people is that as a whole we must be consistently reminded of the importance of upholding the First Amendment’s promises.

The Study

The study was actually a joint survey, conducted in 2015, by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and USA TODAY, which polled Americans’ support for the First Amendment immediately after tragic events in our nation’s history, and then again in more peaceful times.  What it found was that in the months following a terrorist attack against the U.S., for example the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, popularity for upholding the privacy and individual liberty provisions of the First Amendment dropped by almost 20% as 38% of Americans believed that the protections of the amendment went too far.  In contrast, during relatively peaceful times as we have enjoyed since 2013, only 19% of Americans believed that the protections of the First Amendment went too far in 2015.  According to the authors of the study, a similar drop in favor occurred in 2001, following the terrorist attacks on September 11th of that year.

What does this mean for civil liberties?

Studies such as this are important to remind us all of how powerful subjective public opinion can be, and how fragile our Constitution can be at times.  While it is of course understandable that Americans want to be safe from terrorist attacks, and expect their government to be constantly guarding them against evil, we must also remember to pause and remind ourselves that these attacks occur regardless of individual liberty.  Evidence of terrorism of the many by the few can be seen worldwide, but the freedoms we enjoy are exactly what those who wish us harm want to take away.  After all, what is our country if it is not the ‘land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

The protections of the First Amendment are plentiful: free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom to complain and/or ask for help from the government without fear of reprisal.  The very conflicts that we see making headlines about marriage, protesters, hate groups, and news media reports are those that should remind us of how lucky we are to be able to publicly engage in such debates.

It is for this reason that Universal Life Church Case Law will continue in its efforts to monitor any and all lawsuits, court decisions, and legislative changes that occur throughout the country to help ensure a momentary shift in public opinion does not erode over two centuries of liberty.

Photo Credit: mrkumm via Compfight cc

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