“State of the First Amendment 2007” national survey

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“State of the First Amendment 2007” national survey


I find some of these findings disturbing...


'07 survey shows Americans' views mixed on basic freedoms
Nearly two-thirds say nation’s founders intended ‘Christian nation’; support rises for limits on campaign contributions

First Amendment Center

  • Survey tables

    WASHINGTON — Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2007” national survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

    The survey also found that 71% of Americans would limit the amount a corporation or union could contribute to a political campaign, with 64% favoring such a limit on individual contributions. Sixty-two percent would limit the amount a person could contribute to his or her own campaign. Support for such limits increased from the 2000 survey in all three areas: by nine percentage points in favor of limits on self-funding, by seven points concerning limits on individual contributions to someone else; and by three points on limits on corporations and unions.

    The First Amendment Center has conducted the annual survey since 1997. This year’s survey, being released to mark both annual Constitution Day (Sept. 17) activities and the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also found:


    • Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000.
    • 58% of Americans would prevent protests during a funeral procession, even on public streets and sidewalks; and 74% would prevent public school students from wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that might offend others.
    • 34% (lowest since the survey first was done in 1997) think the press “has too much freedom,” but 60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias, and 62% believe the making up of stories is a widespread problem in the news media — down only slightly from 2006.
    • 25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.

    “Americans clearly have mixed views of what First Amendment freedoms are and to whom they should fully apply,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “To me the results of this year’s survey endorse the idea of more and better education for young people — our nation’s future leaders — about our basic freedoms.”

    The right to practice one’s own religion was deemed “essential” or “important” by nearly all Americans (97%); as was the right to “speak freely about whatever you want” (98%) and to “assemble, march, protest or petition the government (94%),” Policinski said. “Still, Americans are hard pressed to name the five freedoms included in the First Amendment,” he said. Speech is the only one named by a majority of respondents (64%), followed by religion (19%), press and assembly (each 16%) and petition (3%).

    Comments on the survey by other First Amendment Center experts:

  • First Amendment Center Senior Scholar Charles Haynes: “While the survey shows Americans highly value religious freedom, a significant number support privileging the religion of the majority, especially in public schools. Four decades after the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored religious practices unconstitutional in public schools, 58% of respondents support teacher-led prayers and 43% favor school holiday programs that are entirely Christian. Moreover, 50% would allow schools to teach the Bible as a factual text in a history class.

    “The strong support for official recognition of the majority faith appears to be grounded in a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, in spite of the fact that the Constitution nowhere mentions God or Christianity. Of course, people define "Christian nation" in various ways — ranging from a nation that reflects Christian values to a nation where the government favors the Christian faith. But almost one-third of respondents appear to believe that the religious views of the majority should rule: 28% would deny freedom to worship to any group that the majority considers ‘extreme or on the fringe.’”

  • First Amendment Center Scholar David Hudson: “The survey results indicate the public does not have strong support for student expression — an unfortunate reality given that students may not appreciate our constitutional democracy if they live in an environment that does not respect their rights to freedom of expression. We all would do well to remember the words of Justice Robert Jackson many years ago: ‘That boards of education are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount principles of our government as mere platitudes.’”
  • Free-press and freedom of information expert Paul McMasters: “Media-industry reports seem to be telling us that many Americans don’t need the press, and this survey seems to be telling us they don’t trust it, either. While more than 9 of 10 do say the right to be informed by a free press is essential or important, significant numbers want to limit that freedom. A third think the press has too much freedom and 60-plus percent believe the press is biased in its reporting or, worse, falsifies or makes up stories. These responses are far too chilling for a healthy democracy.”

    The State of the First Amendment 2007 survey is available online at the First Amendment Center’s Web site, www.firstamendmentcenter.org. (See results.)

    Methodology: The 2007 survey was conducted by New England Survey Research Associates. It was directed by Dr. Kenneth Dautrich and Dr. David Yalof and commissioned by the First Amendment Center. Commissioned annually by the center since the project began in 1997, the study examines public attitudes toward freedom of speech, press, religion and the rights of assembly and petition. The 2007 national survey of 1,003 respondents was conducted by telephone between Aug. 16 and Aug. 26. The sampling error is plus-or-minus 3.2%.

    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.