’08 survey finds most Americans would accept limits on some freedoms

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

  • Full results

    WASHINGTON — As the nation today marks Constitution Day, sizeable numbers of Americans are unable to name their basic freedoms but would accept government limits on some of them, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2008” national survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

    “Americans traditionally support the general concepts of free expression and religious liberty, but when asked about specific situations, many appear willing to accept a measure of government involvement or even control,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “The nation’s Founders, however, saw the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights as guarantees against a power central government created by the Constitution.”

    The nationwide survey questions adults each year on their attitudes and opinions about free expression, a free press and religious liberty. The survey found that this year:

    • 39% would extend to subscription cable and satellite television the government’s current authority to regulate content on over-the-air broadcast television.

    • 54% would continue IRS regulations that bar religious leaders from openly endorsing political candidates from the pulpit without endangering the tax-exempt status of their organizations.

    • 66% say the government should be able to require television broadcasters to offer an equal allotment of time to conservative and liberal broadcasters; 62% would apply that same requirement to newspapers, which never have had content regulated by the government.

    • 31% would not permit musicians to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive.

    • 68% favor government restrictions on campaign contributions by private companies, and 55% favor such limits on amounts individuals can contribute to someone else’s campaign.

    The survey found that just 3% of those questioned could name “petition” as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment. Only “speech” was named by a majority of respondents, 56%. Less than 20% named religion, press or assembly.

    The State of the First Amendment 2008 survey, including questions and responses as well as survey methodology, is available online as of today at the First Amendment Center’s Web site, www.firstamendmentcenter.org.

    The 2008 survey was conducted by New England Survey Associates, directed by Dr. Kenneth Dautrich and Dr. David Yalof, who are also professors at the University of Connecticut. The annual project, first done in 1997, examines public attitudes toward freedom of speech, press, religion and the rights of assembly and petition. The national survey of 1,005 respondents was conducted by telephone between July 23 and Aug. 3, 2008. The sampling error is plus-or-minus 3.5%.

    The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

    The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies.

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    Media contact:
    Gene Policinski
    615-727-1600 or