Support of first freedoms back to pre-9/11 levels

Monday, August 23, 2004

WASHINGTON — Americans’ support for their First Amendment freedoms — deeply shaken by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — continues to rebound and is back at pre-9/11 levels, according to the annual State of the First Amendment survey, conducted by the First Amendment Center in collaboration with American Journalism Review magazine.

The 2004 survey found that just 30 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement, ‘The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,’ with 65 percent disagreeing. The nation was split evenly, 49 percent to 49 percent, on that same question two years ago, in the survey following the ‘9/11’ attacks,” said Gene Policinski, acting director of the First Amendment Center.

“Despite the ongoing war on terrorism worldwide and regular warnings from authorities about domestic attacks, a significant majority of Americans continue to support a free and open society,” Policinski said. “Still, having about one in three Americans say they have too much freedom is a disturbing figure.”

Other findings in the survey also show that Americans’ support for First Amendment freedoms falls in specific areas or circumstances. Large numbers of Americans would restrict speech that might offend racial or religious groups and would restrict music that might offend anyone. Also, about four in 10 respondents — a figure typical of findings in prior surveys — said that the press in America has too much freedom.

The State of the First Amendment 2004 survey is available online at the First Amendment Center’s Web site,

Among the key findings of this year’s survey:

  • About 65% of respondents indicated overall support for First Amendment freedoms, while 30% said the First Amendment goes too far — a nine-point swing from last year and a dramatic change from the 2002 survey in which Americans were evenly divided on the question at 49% each.
  • Only 1% of Americans could name “petition” as one of the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Only one of the five freedoms was identified by more than half of those surveyed: 58% named “speech.” For the other rights: religion — 17%; press — 15%; assembly — 10%.
  • About 58% said that the current amount of government regulation of entertainment programming on television is “about right;” 16% said there is “too much,” while 21% said there is “too little.” Broadcasters and producers should note, however, that 49% of respondents would have current daytime-and-early-evening regulations regarding references to sexual activity extended to cover all 24 hours; and 54% would extend those regulations to cable, which currently is not covered by such FCC rules.
  • 50% said they believe Americans have too little access to information about the federal government’s efforts to combat terrorism — up from 40% in 2002.
  • About 53% of those surveyed opposed a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, a proposal now pending the U.S. Senate.
  • About 70% said that including the words “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • Just 28% rated America’s education system as doing an “excellent”or “good” job of teaching students about First Amendment freedoms.

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. The national survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted by telephone between May 6 and June 6, 2004. The sampling error is plus-or-minus 3%.

Copies of all of the annual State of the First Amendment surveys, along with commentaries and analysis, are available on the Web at Printed copies of the survey can be obtained from the First Amendment Center, with a written request to:
“2004 State of the First Amendment,” First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Avenue 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. The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

American Journalism Review is a national magazine that covers all aspects of print, television, radio and online media. The magazine, which is published six times a year, examines how the media cover specific stories and broader coverage trends. AJR analyzes ethical dilemmas in the field and monitors the impact of technology on how journalism is practiced and on the final product. The magazine is owned by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

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