New 2002 ‘State of the First Amendment’ survey suggests many Americans see freedoms as obstacles in war on terror

Thursday, August 29, 2002

WASHINGTON — For the first time in the annual State of the First Amendment survey, almost half (49%) of those surveyed said the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees — a 10-percentage-point jump from 2001, which suggests new public concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The State of the First Amendment 2002 survey report was released today in a media briefing at the National Press Club.

“The stakes have risen for the First Amendment in the wake of September 11,” said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center. “The results of our 2002 survey suggest that many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism.” In 2001, 39% of those surveyed said the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees.

“That’s not to suggest a monolithic response to these core First Amendment values. In truth, Americans are of multiple minds about the 45 words drafted by James Madison,” Paulson said. “While a majority says they respect the First Amendment, a significant percentage seems inclined to rewrite it.”

The annual State of the First Amendment survey, conducted since 1997 by the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut, examines public attitudes toward freedom of speech, press, religion and the rights of assembly and petition. The survey was done this year in partnership with American Journalism Review magazine, which published the full survey results in its September issue, available beginning today.

Additional findings:

  • About half of those surveyed said the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism.

  • More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of government military policy.
  • About half of those surveyed said government should be able to monitor religious groups in the interest of national security, even if that means infringing upon religious freedom.
  • More than four in 10 said the government should have greater power to monitor the activities of Muslims living in the United States than it does other religious groups.

About 40% of those surveyed said they have too little access to information about the government’s war on terrorism, compared to 16% who said there’s too much. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said there’s too little access to government records, compared to just 8% who believe there’s too much.

The least popular First Amendment right once again was freedom of the press. Forty-two percent of respondents said the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, roughly the same level as last year.

The survey also found, as in previous years, that many Americans are unable to name the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. The percentages of those responding who were able to identify individual freedoms:

  • 58% — freedom of speech

  • 18% — freedom of religion
  • 14% — freedom of the press
  • 10% — freedom of assembly/association
  • 2% — freedom of petition

The national survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted by Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut by telephone between June 12 and July 5, 2002. The sampling error is plus-or-minus 3%.

In addition to AJR, full copies of the survey and methodology, along with commentary by Ken Paulson and analysis by the University of Connecticut, are available at the related link below. Issues of AJR are available on Printed copies of the survey can be obtained in limited quantities from the First Amendment Center, with a written request to “State of the First Amendment 2002,” First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212.

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, the right to assemble and petition the government. With offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va., the First Amendment Center is an independent affiliate of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

Media contacts:
Gene Policinski: 615/727-1303 or 703/284-2809 or
Tam Gordon: 615/727-1321 or

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