Support For 1st Amendment Slipping

US Constitution AP

Support for the First Amendment has eroded significantly since Sept. 11 and nearly half of Americans now think the constitutional amendment on free speech goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to a new poll.

The sentiment that the First Amendment goes too far was already on the rise before the terrorist attacks a year ago, doubling to four in 10 between 2000 and 2001.

The poll released Thursday found that 49 percent think the First Amendment goes too far, a total about 10 points higher than in 2001.

"Many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism," said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, based in Arlington, Va., which commissioned the survey. Almost half also said the media has been too aggressive in asking the government questions about the war on terrorism.

The center, which also has offices in Nashville, asked the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis to measure views about the First Amendment.

The poll of 1,000 adults was taken between June 12 and July 5, and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The researchers said they designed this year's survey, in part, to test the "public's willingness to tolerate restrictions on the First Amendment liberties during what they perceive to be wartime."

They found that 48 percent of respondents agreed the government should have the freedom to monitor religious groups in the interest of national security — even if that means infringing upon the religious freedom of the group's members. Forty-two percent said the government should have more authority to monitor Muslims.

The survey also found a significant dip in the number of people who believe newspapers should freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance. Fifty-seven percent were supportive this year, compared to 69 percent in 2001.

Seven in 10 respondents agreed newspapers should publish freely, a slight drop from 2001. Those less likely to support newspaper rights included people without a college education, Republicans, and evangelicals, the survey found.

Republican respondents also were more likely than Democrats or Independents to see the news media as too aggressive in seeking war information from government officials.

Among other poll findings:

About four in 10 favored restrictions on the academic freedom of professors to criticize government military policy during war. Twenty-two percent strongly supported such restrictions.

While 75 percent considered the right to speak freely as "essential," almost half, 46 percent, supported amending the Constitution to prohibit flag burning.

Sixty-three percent rated the job the American educational system does in teaching students about First Amendment freedoms as either "fair" or "poor." Five percent rated the educational system's job in this area as excellent.


  • John Esterbrook

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