Survey: Students more supportive of free expression than general public

Monday, October 2, 2000


STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Penn State students are more supportive
of free expression than the American public, and they also believe there should
be protection for the free distribution of music over the Internet, according
to a new survey conducted by the First Amendment Center.

When asked about free-expression issues, such as whether musicians
should be allowed to sing offensive songs, 82% of Penn State students agreed,
compared to 59% of American adults surveyed earlier this year. Students also
are more likely than other Americans to agree people should be allowed to
display potentially offensive art in a public place (66% vs. 46%) and to agree
that burning or defacing the American flag should be permitted as a political
statement (38% vs. 25%).

On the subject of free expression and copyright infringement,
two-thirds (67%) of Penn State students said they believe making MP3 music
files available online is a legally protected form of free expression. About
one-fourth (24%) say making the music files available online infringes on
recording industry copyrights.

“While the American public appears to have second thoughts about
the First Amendment, there is greater overall support for free expression on
the Penn State campus than we found nationally,” says
Kenneth Paulson, executive director of the
First Amendment Center. “At the same time, it’s surprising to see that
students equate free music with freedom of music and believe Internet music
vehicles like Napster should be protected.”

The poll of Penn State students was conducted during face-to-face
interviews with 406 students Aug. 30, 31, and Sept. 5, 2000. Students were
asked a subset of questions gleaned from the center’s
“State of the First
Amendment 2000″ telephone survey of 1,006 Americans released July

Findings from the Penn State survey will be discussed during the
First Amendment Festival at Penn
State University, a campus-outreach program presented by the First Amendment
Center and The Freedom Forum. The festival kicks off with a concert the evening
of Oct. 2 followed by daylong programs Oct. 3 featuring discussions about
Napster and free speech, free expression on campus and freedom of the press.
Veteran journalist and author Tom
Wicker will deliver the keynote.

Other findings from the poll:

Awareness of First Amendment rights: When asked on an
open-ended basis to name the First Amendment freedoms, 85% of Penn State
students identified freedom of speech (vs. 60% of Americans surveyed), 44%
named freedom of the press (vs. 12%), 37% named freedom of religion (vs. 16%)
and 31% identified the right of assembly (vs. 9%). On the fifth freedom,
students were no more likely than other Americans to name the right to petition
(6% vs. 2%).

Press freedom: Only one-fourth (25%) of Penn State
students believe the press in America has too much freedom, while more than
half (51%) of all Americans surveyed believe so.

Religious freedom: Students are less likely than the
general public to agree teachers should be allowed to lead prayers in school
(51% vs. 65%).

For more information, call Sheila Owens at 212/317-6517; e-mail or Ellen
Ross at 212/317-6519; e-mail