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.
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.