Is Free Speech Popular?

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The First Amendment Center just released its 2005 “State of the First Amendment” survey, and some of the results are fairly interesting. The headliner here is that 70 percent of Americans are fine with posting the Ten Commandments in government buildings—and 85 percent approve if such a monument is surrounded by “other historical documents”—which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But other finds include:

  • 63 percent of respondents oppose a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, up from 53 percent a year ago. (Good thing Congress is in tune with the popular will on this issue, huh?)
  • 80 percent of respondents want Supreme Court proceedings televised. (Which seems unnecessary, since the transcripts are always available, and there’s a risk that lawyers and judges could start mugging for the camera—but the reasons as to why this shouldn’t be done don’t seem particularly forceful. Most state appellate courts allow it.)
  • 75 percent think students in public school should be allowed to express offensive views. But only 27 percent think students should be allowed to wear t-shirts that offend people. (Huh?)
  • 64 percent endorse increasing fines to $500,000 on broadcasters who “violate government rules” governing content on broadcast television. But 60 percent don’t think those rules should be applied to cable or satellite.
  • Only 23 percent of Americans agreed that “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” which is down from 49 percent after the 9/11 attacks.
  • So that’s encouraging, and should help slow the long inevitable drift towards fascism, eh? Although when you flip some of the results around, they can look disheartening. 25 percent of Americans think that students in public schools should never express any sort of views that might offend others? 40 percent think the government should regulate content on cable and satellite? That’s a lot of people.

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