Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies - A Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
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How Supportive are Americans of Freedom of Expression?

While the public affirms support for the rights granted by First Amendment in the abstract, findings from the State of the First Amendment 2005 survey show that significant numbers of Americans (in some cases, a majority) would impose restrictions on particular forms of expression.

Support for the First Amendment in 2005

A preponderance of the American public support the level of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. According to the State of the First Amendment 2005 survey conducted by the First Amendment Center, 72% of Americans disagree with the idea that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees (56% disagree strongly; 16% disagree mildly). [First Amendment Center. 2005. State of the First Amendment 2005. Nashville, TN: First Amendment Center.]

Pie chart: The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees: Agree or Disagree? (State of the First Amendment Survey 2005)

But while the public affirms support for the rights granted by First Amendment in the abstract, support for freedom of expression is not absolute. Significant numbers of Americans would impose restrictions on particular forms of expression:

  • 38% of those surveyed thought musicians should not be allowed to sing songs with offensive lyrics
  • 38% said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance
  • 50% felt that individuals should not be permitted to publicly express opinions that might offend religious groups
  • 53% thought people should not be permitted to publicly express opinions that might offend racial groups

Graph: Should the following types of potentially offensive speech be allowed? (State of the First Amendment Survey 2005)

Pie chart: Should newspapers be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military about its strategy and performance? (State of the First Amendment Survey 2005)

 

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