So Much for Free Speech: It is, sadly, barely newsworthy anymore: Americans don't care much for the First Amendment.

The annual Freedom Forum 2000 survey says the majority of the public would prohibit speech considered offensive by racial minorities (77%) or religious groups (53%).

About 75% would allow flag burning -- presumably even by disgruntled veterans -- to be punished.

The good news, if any? 74% of those surveyed say "material on the Internet should have the same First Amendment protection as printed material, such as books and newspapers."

But in light of their other attitudes, what sort of protection is that?

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For release: July 21, 2000
For additional information:
George Getz, Press Secretary
Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222

New survey sends scary message
to the First Amendment: Drop dead

WASHINGTON, DC -- A new survey showing that 37% of Americans can't name a single freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment and that a majority think the press has "too much freedom" has Libertarians wondering: Will the First Amendment die of neglect?

"Americans don't seem to realize that unless you constantly defend free speech, it will vanish faster than subpoenaed White House e-mails," said Libertarian Party national director Steve Dasbach.

"This troubling survey should make every American ask: Has the First Amendment become an endangered species?"

The survey, released late last month by the New York-based First Amendment Center, revealed that significant numbers of Americans say they are willing to allow the government to control, restrict, or ban material that some find offensive.

Of the more than a thousand adults surveyed across the nation:

"The good news is that, in some cases, a substantial number of Americans seem to understand the value of free speech," said Dasbach. "The bad news is that, in some cases, a sizable minority -- or even a majority -- of Americans appear willing to put the First Amendment last."

What explains Americans' indifference about fundamental freedoms? Two obvious culprits, said Dasbach: Congress and public education.

"Congress is constantly churning out laws that infringe on the First Amendment -- whether it is censoring the Internet, making it illegal to distribute information about drugs, banning flag burning, or restricting political speech in campaigns," he said. "Congress has sent the message: You'll get as much free speech as we're willing to give you.

"And government schools have done a terrible job educating young people about the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights," he said. "Government schools have apparently failed in the four R's -- reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, and rights."

This survey should act as a "wake up" call for Americans, said Dasbach.

"The enemy of free speech is not censorship. It is apathy," he said. "Americans need to wake from their lethargy, and remember: Free speech isn't free. There is a price you must pay to defend it, and that price is eternal vigilance -- not the infernal indifference this survey seems to have uncovered."

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