Good News for the First Amendment

First Amendment

By: Valerie Nye

The Knight Foundation (an organization founded to “foster informed and engaged communities” in order to create and preserve democracy) surveys high school students on First Amendment issues. On Feb. 7, 2017, the foundation released the latest survey report: “Future of the First Amendment: 2016 Survey of High School Students and Teachers.”

Gene Policinski, the director of the State of the First Amendment National Survey, reports, “As an advocate for those five core freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, I don’t see any bad news that follows that finding.”

Woman standing in front of a white board speaking to students in a small room.The study worked with nearly 12,000 high school students and more than 700 high school teachers. The survey shows that students have an increased belief that people should be able to express unpopular opinions (in 2004, 83 percent of students believed people should be able to express unpopular opinions, and in 2016, 91 percent believed in this expression).

One of the key findings of the survey is that high school students who read or watch news and/or actively engage with news on social media show stronger support for the First Amendment.

The Knight Foundation continually finds that education is the answer for preserving and strengthening the First Amendment. Beliefs and understandings about the freedoms provided in the Constitution are not stable beliefs. The foundation found that support for the First Amendment rises and falls based on national beliefs and education. For this reason, librarians and teachers have a critical and ongoing role to play in educating students and patrons about the First Amendment.

The Knight Foundation’s research into journalism and the First Amendment is ongoing. In response to concerns about “fake news,” it is opening a call for ideas for countering misinformation and strengthening the role journalism has in American culture. For more information about this upcoming initiative, visit the Foundation’s website.


Valerie NyeValerie Nye is the library director at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She has been active in local and national library organizations, recently serving on ALA Council, the New Mexico Library Association, and the New Mexico Consortium of Academic Libraries. Val has cowritten or coedited four books including: True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Libraries published by ALA Editions in 2012. True Stories is a compilation of essays written by librarians who have experienced challenges to remove material held in their libraries’ collections. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her time away from the library she enjoys road trips in convertibles and kayaking on lakes. You can contact her at

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