WASHINGTON — More and more teenagers these days support a bedrock of American democracy, the First Amendment.
A new poll shows a sharp decline in the percentage of students who think it goes too far in the rights it guarantees, from 45 percent in 2006 to 24 percent this year.
The study was being released to coincide with Constitution Day, which commemorates the formation and signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
"It's important for people to be able to express themselves and share their opinions," said 16-year-old Kyle Shikashio of San Jose, Calif.
The junior at Branham High School said he doesn't think the First Amendment goes too far. But he said he tries "not to say anything really bad or something people may take offense to online, or in front of my friends or teachers or adults."
Two other Branham students, 17-year-old Alexander Richter and 16-year-old Erin Nyren, agreed that the protections of free speech, religion, a free press, and the rights to assemble and petition the government are crucial freedoms. Both have been studying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in their U.S. government and history classes.
"It's really important to maintain the principles our country was founded on even though it's hundreds of years later," Nyren said.
The study was paid for by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Eric Newton, senior adviser to the foundation's president, says it's important to track teenagers' attitudes about the First Amendment.
"The Supreme Court's decisions reflect long-term changes in public attitudes, and that's as true for First Amendment cases as it is for other parts of the Constitution," said Newton. "Since young people represent the future of American public opinion, then they are the real overseers of the future of the First Amendment."
The study found broad majorities of students supporting certain rights. For example, 88 percent said people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions and 70 percent agreed that musicians should be able to sing songs with lyrics that some people might find offensive.
The survey also explored the impact of social media on student learning.
Forty-nine percent of the teachers polled viewed the emergence of social media such as Facebook and Twitter as harmful to a student's learning, while 39 percent said it helped and 12 percent said it had no effect.
The study involved 12,090 students and 900 teachers at a random sample of 34 high schools throughout the country.
The poll was conducted using respondent-completed paper questionnaires from April through June of this year. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point for the student survey and plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the teachers.