Jewish World Review July 1, 2004 / 12 Tamuz 5764
Polls on First Amendment defeats its purpose
A newspaper headline read, "Support for First Amendment rebounding from post 9/11 low." The article went on to say that more people now believe that the First Amendment does not go too far in the protections it affords than was the case closer to 9/11.
This poll defeats the purpose of the Amendment. The First Amendment is not designed to win popularity contests. As is the case of the rest of the Bill of Rights, they're supposed to protect individuals against the power of government and often to protect the minority from the majority. And since 35 percent of the people questioned could not name any of the rights afforded by the First Amendment, or "refused to answer" makes the poll all that much more irrelevant.
The organizations conducting the poll are legitimately evaluating public sentiment about the media and about free speech in this country. That is important self-evaluation.
But the First Amendment is different. Once we start heralding polls that say, "Look, people support the First Amendment," we're subjecting ourselves to the changing whims of public opinion.
In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson from 1943 said "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials. One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, free press, freedom of worship and assembly and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote. They depend on the outcomes of no elections."
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