State of the First Amendment Under President Trump Scores a C+

Report card
Every quarter the Newseum Institute produces a “report card” on how the current administration is faring on the five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. 15 First Amendment experts — academics, lawyers, journalists and activists — from across the political spectrum weigh in.

Republished with Permission from Newseum’s First Amendment Center

The composite grade point average for the five freedoms of the First Amendment slightly increased to from 2.25 to 2.29 — still a modest C+ — in the fourth installment of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Report Card, released on January 24, 2018.

In this evaluation by a team of First Amendment experts, the grade point averages for speech and assembly increased, while the grade point average for press freedom declined and religion and petition remained relatively stable.

This report card reflects, in many ways, the cumulative turbulence of the first year of the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

  • The panelists commented on the administration’s efforts to discredit the news media, but also said they were impressed by the resilience of the press.
  • They noted administration attempts to challenge publication of critical reporting, but also identified the increase in the number of women speaking out against sexual harassment as an important milestone for free speech.
  • The effects of the Charlottesville protests on last quarter’s grades for assembly appeared to be mitigated by this quarter’s robust organization of marches.
  • Despite recognizing disparities around what interests had the most impact on influencing federal tax reform, the panelists rated petition the strongest freedom.
  • Many panelists were reluctant to weigh in with new thinking around the freedom of religion, preferring to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in the months ahead.

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center launched the report card in April 2017 to evaluate the state of each of the five freedoms of the First Amendment in the age of Donald Trump. The Winter 2018 report card is based on the opinions of the same panel of 15 First Amendment experts — academics, lawyers, journalists and activists from across the political spectrum —  who contributed their insights to the Spring 2017,  Summer 2017 and Fall 2017 report cards.

We asked our panelists to start with their grades from the previous quarter’s report card and alter or confirm them based on changes in legislation, executive orders, judicial decisions, and indicators of public opinion that have occurred since the last report card. Please note that this includes issues, such as speech on college campuses or state legislation, that the Trump administration does not directly control.

Panelists were instructed to assign each freedom a letter grade, without using pluses or minuses. In determining the overall grade of a First Amendment freedom for our report card, we used the average of the grades assigned by our panelists.

Freedom Spring 2017 Summer 2017 Fall 2017 Winter 2017/18
Religion C+ (2.20) C+ (2.40) C+ (2.36) C+ (2.36)
Speech C+ (2.40) C+ (2.27) C (2.00) C+ (2.20)
Press C (2.00) C (1.93) C (2.07) C (1.93)
Assembly B- (2.53) B- (2.67) C (1.87) C+ (2.28)
Petition B- (2.80) B- (2.80) B (2.93) B- (2.79)
First Amendment Composite C+ (2.39) C+ (2.41) C+ (2.25) C+ (2.29)


For further reading: Newseum