44 percent of Americans would ban SEB if they could.

It’s that time once again: The folks at the First Amendment Center have released the results of their 2004 State of the First Amendment survey which they conduct every year and it’s definitely a mixed bag of good news/bad news.

First, the Good News:  Only 30% of Americans feel the First Amendment “goes too far” in the rights it guarantees. That’s down from 50% in 2002 which is thought to have been a response to the 9/11 attacks. That’s pretty much it for the good news.

The bad news? Just because most folks don’t think the First Amendment goes too far doesn’t mean they support keeping government from limiting those very freedoms that it’s supposed to protect.

Most at risk? Freedom of the press. A startling 42% of Americans believe that the press in America has too much freedom. What’s an example of “too much”? According to 41% of respondents, newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance.

Did you catch that? Half of these people believe in a free press as long as it’s not free to be critical of the military’s strategy or performance. I guess that’s the old adage about how if you can’t say anything nice then it shouldn’t be printed in a newspaper. At least when it comes to the military it seems. Seeing as the President is considered the “Commander in Chief” does that mean the press can’t be critical of him as well?

Things steadily go downhill from there:

Freedom of speech doesn’t fare much better. Large numbers of Americans are all for free speech — unless it might offend someone (which covers, of course, most speech). If you were hoping for the “politically correct” craze to die down, forget it. Look at these numbers:

  • 38% would bar musicians from singing songs “with lyrics that others might find offensive.”
  • 44% wouldn’t allow people to say things in public that “might be offensive to religious groups.”
  • A remarkable 63% say people shouldn’t be able to say things in public that “might be offensive to racial groups.”

I think it’s safe to say, judging by some of the comments left and the emails in my inbox, that I say plenty of things here on SEB that are definitely offensive to various religious groups. There’s no “might be” about it. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that I’ve said something here that might be offensive to some racial groups, though I can’t think of anything off top of my head—unless you consider incredibly stupid people to be a racial class.

These folks are definitely working on making sure the next generation is willing to limit their First Amendment rights:

Most people would start early teaching kids about the need to ban potentially offensive speech. A whopping 72% of respondents would not allow public school students to wear a T-shirt with a message or picture that others might — might — find offensive. That wipes out most of what students put on their shirts, including any and all political or religious messages.

That’s right kids. You have the right in this country to say whatever you want. Unless, of course, it might offend somebody. We have soldiers fighting and dieing in Iraq to protect your right to not say anything potentially offensive!

Oh, but I’ve saved the worst for last—my favorite topic: Religious Freedom.

What about freedom of religion? That depends on how you define it. You’ll be disheartened if you believe (as I do) that keeping government out of religion is essential for religious liberty. But if you advocate more mixing of church and state, you’ll be encouraged by the survey results.

Sixty-six percent of respondents favor government funding of social-service programs run by churches — even when the program is delivered with a religious message. And 68% support allowing government officials to post the Ten Commandments inside government buildings. So much for Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation.

Indeed.

Probably the biggest irony of this whole exercise, however, is the last statistic listed in the article I’m quoting from:

Many Americans are clearly having a hard time defining the meaning of “freedom.” But they seem to understand a key source of the problem: 67% say schools are doing a fair or poor job of teaching kids about the First Amendment.

You’re left to wonder if this means these people feel the schools aren’t teaching about what the First Amendment is really all about or what they believe the First Amendment is all about? My cynical side would assume it’s the latter over the former given the number of folks out there, particularly Christian Fundamentalists, who make attempts at revisionism and misinformation at every opportunity.

26 thoughts on “44 percent of Americans would ban SEB if they could.

  1. Political correctness… I hear the sound of jackboots ringing in my ears….or is that just the old war footage of Nazi Germany on the History Channel playing tricks on my mind… >(

    Sure, don’t say anything offensive…unless of course you’re one of ‘them’, then it’s ok to say whatever you want. Pfft.

  2. New rulez:

    You may not speak, write, draw, or sculpt.

    You may wear jeans and a long-sleeve loose t-shirt in a solid color only. You must wear socks.

    You may only read Garfield comics.

    You may only photograph sunsets and babies.

    Your neck vertebrae will be fused so you can only look straight ahead.

    That ought to solve things.

    did

    p.s. close sources say Doom 3 is nigh…

  3. Some time ago. It has just become more noticeable in the last three or four years.

    Let’s see, should we permit 1984 to remain in school libraries? If we don’t, questions like that won’t bother the next generation.

  4. I can’t help but wonder where these guys got their sample population? I’ve heard nonsense like this in the Bible-belt area where I (unfortunately) live, but I wouldn’t expect numbers like these if they had a representative proportion of people from the more liberal coastal areas in their study.

    Am I just sadly deluded about the true stupidity and sheep-like complacency of the general public?

  5. I can’t help but wonder where these guys got their sample population?

    Here is what the site says about methodology

    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%.

    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=13573

  6. [Quote]You’re left to wonder if this means these people feel the schools aren’t teaching about what the First Amendment is really all about or what they believe the First Amendment is all about?

    I would expect these results coming out of a school system where the First Amendment is taught in an extraordinarily PC enviroment.

    It seems like a demented cross-breed of radical and fundamental thinking.  If it feels good do it…but don’t hurt yourself, anyone else or their feelings.

    captcha = ‘plant’ What people become when they stop thinking.

  7. Well, maybe I’m naive about Americans or too optimistic, but 1000 looks like a real small sample to me. Here in Germany, as far as I know, you need about 2000-3000 people for a poll thats considered representative. And we have barely one fourth of your population.

  8. Large numbers of Americans are all for free speech — unless it might offend someone (which covers, of course, most speech).

    More of it!  More of it I say!

    This would solve so many problems!  There could be no religious discussion, as this would undoubtedly be offensive to anyone of a different faith. There would be no more TV evangelists!

    I’m glad the participants in this survey really thought their answers through.

    PS. Even here, with a population of only 21mil, a survey of 1000 would be considred laughably small.

  9. Well, maybe I’m naive about Americans or too optimistic, but 1000 looks like a real small sample to me.

    PS. Even here, with a population of only 21mil, a survey of 1000 would be considred [sic] laughably small.

    I can’t do justice to the math anymore, but I disagree with these two observations. Conversions between variance in the population and variance in the sample include the term (1 – f). Where f is the sampling fraction

    f = sample size (n) / Population (N)

    Even for the numbers given in the two posts

    (1 – f) ~ 1

    So, when estimating a proportion, the percent error of the estimate varies inversely as the square root of the sample size. (It also depends on the proportion being measured.) To illustrate, here is a quote from the results of a recent survey conducted by the Pew organization.

    Results for the June 2004 Voter Attitudes survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 1,806 adults, 18 years of age or older, during the period June 3-13, 2004. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. For results based on registered voters (N=1426) the sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For results based on either Form 1 (N=891) or Form 2 (N=915) general public, the sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

    In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

    The last paragraph of the quote is something to keep in mind any time you look at survey results.  Questions can be misinterpreted and non-response bias is just one of the problems that survey organization have to deal with.

    (figures)

  10. I’ve always seen our “freedoms” as a reponsibility, rather than a right.  A good analogy would be like having a drivers license… it gives us the legal right to operate a vehicle. It doesn’t give us the right to just the sidewalks and mow people down.

    I think there’s a time and a place for everything.  While it sounds like I’m advocating censorship, nothing could be further from the truth.

  11. Hmm…May have the right words but in the wrong order.  Freedom isn’t dependent upon anything.  It is indeed and inalienable right.  One could argue that with freedom comes responsibility. A noble thought but one that diminishes the overall value of freedom.  What happens when one is irresponsible?  To what degree of irresponsibility do they need to go to in order to lose their freedom?  For freedom to have the penultimate value that it does it must stand on its own.

  12. No one has said freedom is “free”, but it is an inalienable right. That said, freedom certainly would be free if everyone wanted everyone else to have it. Too bad that doesn’t seem to be the case, as this poll helps to indicate.

  13. Inalienable right, as if!  Its only been in the past 100 years that the average person has had any freedom at all, and still the vast majority of humans are NOT free.  I get so tired of hearing freedom called a right, Freedom is only gained by Violence against those that want to keep you chained as chattel.

  14. Your argument doesn’t actually contradict anything I said. The fact that you have to fight for something doesn’t necessarily mean that you have any less of a right to it; that’s been the issue at the heart of every civil rights struggle this country has seen. Of course, this gets into the sticky issue of how you actually define a right. But I disagree with what seems to be the logical extension of your argument, which implies that people who live in bondage don’t deserve freedom. I don’t see why the fact that most people aren’t free means that they don’t have a right to be free. In any case, I’d be interested on hearing your thoughts on the issue at hand, which is that a good chunk of the people in this country seem ready to paradoxically give up freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the name of freedom.

  15. I obviously am not making myself clear on this.

    Freedom is something that you must fight for constantly, and i don’t think anyone deserves a “free pass” to freedom.  We all have to maintain the effort, or all the freedoms that we have can easily pass away.

    “that a good chunk of the people in this country seem ready to paradoxically give up freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the name of freedom.

    I feel this is an outgrowth of the current crop of christian conservatives.  Their religion tells them that God gave them free will, and in return, expects them to give it back to him, and follow the guidelines he has set down.  After all if God doesnt want you to have Freedom of Thought or Action, why let anyone have any freedom at all?

    Freedom is just some evil satanic plot in their opinion, so its better that we remove all freedom as soon as possible.

  16. Its only been in the past 100 years that the average person has had any freedom at all,

    Uh, no.

    In fact, I would argue that many people in the United States had a much greater level of freedom in the mid to late 1800’s then they do today. The old west may have been a rough place to live, but it was full of freedom….

  17. I did not say average american i said average person.  In the time frame you speak of, what freedoms did the average chinese or russian have?  Heck even black americans during the time frame had limited if any freedoms. 

    I stand by my original statement.

  18. Freedom is something that you must fight for constantly, and i don’t think anyone deserves a “free pass

  19. I do have to wonder about that phone poll.  At what time was this poll conducted?  During the day when most people would be at work?  Were cellphones also called, or just regular phones?  Residences only, or businesses too?  How many people hung up on the pollers before they hit their sampling target?  When they say nationwide, did they go by percentage of population per state (2% of each state)?  Did they dial at random, or did they make an effort to dial every part of a state?

    I hate phone soliciting of any kind and as soon as I realize that’s what a call is, I hang up.  So, those successfully polled would have to be people who don’t mind talking to pollers/solicitors AND have the time to do it.

    I like how Arianna Huffington puts it:  the only people who answer these things are the desperately lonely who are happy to talk to ANYONE.  And to me at least, that just might imply a certain mindset, a certain personality, possibly even a certain education. (take all this with a grain of salt)

    —Joe grin

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