First Amendment Earns a C+ on Winter 2018 Report Card

Today the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center released its quarterly “report card” on the state of the First Amendment. The composite grade point average for the five freedoms of the First Amendment increased slightly in the winter of 2018, from 2.25 to 2.29 (a C+). Individual grades stand as such: religion (C+); speech (C+); press (C); assembly (C+); petition (B-).

The report card series was launched in April 2017 as a way to systematically assess the state of our core freedoms during the current presidential administration. Grades are assigned by a panel of the nation’s leading constitutional experts.

In this evaluation, the grade point averages for speech and assembly increased, the grade point average for press freedom declined, and religion and petition remained relatively stable.

“This is our fourth report card, meaning that we’ve spent one full year tracking the various threats to our core freedoms,” said Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center. “It’s been a long and very turbulent year for the First Amendment. Although the overall grade has held steady at a C+, each quarter brought a whole new set of issues and concerns for us to consider.”

The increasing number of women speaking out against sexual harassment was hailed by panelists as an important milestone for free speech. Panelists were also optimistic about the robust organization of marches across the country, which helped reverse the negative effects of last summer’s Charlottesville, Va., protests on the freedom to assemble.

Panelists refrained from assigning a new grade to freedom of religion this quarter, preferring to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the landmark religious freedom case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission this spring.

The grade assigned to press freedom dipped this quarter, with many panelists citing the Trump administration’s continued efforts to discredit the news media, as well as its attempts to challenge the publication of critical reporting. Freedom to petition continues to be the highest-rated freedom, although panelists noted that the power of ordinary Americans to effect change through petition is relatively low, as seen during the passage of the federal tax reform bill.

The 15 panelists conducting the evaluation come from across the political spectrum, and were advised to consider the following four elements when assigning grades: legislation, executive orders, judicial decisions and public opinion; and also to consider long-term trends and actions.

The next First Amendment report card will be released in April 2018. The previous report cards, as well as more information about our panelists and grading methodology, can be viewed here.

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