Land of the Far-Too-Free?
More than 40 percent of Americans say the First Amendment of the Constitution "goes too far in the rights it guarantees," an increase of 17 percent from last year, according to a new poll released by the First Amendment Center, a think tank that studies how Americans view rights such as freedom of speech, the press, assembly and religion.
"Americans have always embraced the idea of the First Amendment, but when it comes down to the actual practices they start backing off when things are done that offend them," says Paul McMasters, a First Amendment ombudsman for the Freedom Forum, a private media foundation. "That is why we have a First Amendment -- to protect against the will of the majority, the power of the government or the passions of the moment."
Americans have "mixed feelings about the watchdog role of both the press and the government," the center found. While 41 percent say the media has too much freedom, 36 percent contend there's too much government censorship. "Many Americans are willing to put fundamental freedoms on the line in order to protect themselves from perceived threats against their personal rights," says McMasters, who attributes the results in part to a "coarsening of our culture."
"A lot of people see too much that offends them in movies, on television, in music and on the Internet," he says. "When they feel assaulted by expression that is lewd, indecent, violent or hateful, they want to stop it. People think the First Amendment right is being abused rather than used."
Among those polled, 64 percent disagreed that "people should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups." Thirty-six percent were in favor of a law enforcing that ideal, while 60 percent opposed legislation to regulate racial speech.
Seven in 10 Americans said it is important for the government to "hold the media in check." "To a great extent, the fortunes of the First Amendment lie with the public perception of the press and, right now, the press is not viewed very well by Americans," says McMasters. "The public feels that the press is not as accurate as it should be, is sensational, superficial and too invasive."
Race Relations Remain a Problem
African-Americans have a pessimistic view of race relations, according to a survey released by the Gallup Poll Social Audit. Sixty-six percent of blacks say that racial relations will always be a problem in the United States.
"The survey says clearly and distinctly that race relations will continue to be a problem today and that we see no evidence things are getting better," says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. "In fact, we have statistical evidence they may be getting worse."
From the end of March until mid-May this year, Gallup conducted telephone interviews of 2,400 randomly selected adults in the United States. Of the participants, 1,000 were black and at least 800 were white, with the remaining number claiming other racial distinctions.
At least 69 percent of whites say blacks are treated the same as whites in their own community, while 41 percent of blacks say the same. …