Strong Majorities of Americans Feel the First Amendment Guarantees Freedom of – and from – Religion

New York , N.Y. – February 26, 2014 – The United States Bill of Rights was a revolutionary concept at the time of its inception: a set of limits on the actions the new government could take in regard to the personal liberties of its citizens, and a collection of rights Thomas Jefferson saw as what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference. Even though the document is over two centuries old, the meanings, implications and the application of its articles to life today continues to be the subject of vigorous debate. But which rights do Americans believe to be guaranteed – and not guaranteed – by the amendments included in the document? What better place to start than at the top, with the First Amendment.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014. This look at the First Amendment is the first in what will be an ongoing series in the coming months examining American attitudes towards the Bill of Rights, both collectively and at an amendment-by-amendment level.

Religion is like a pair of shoes. Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.

George Carlin

Strong majorities of Americans believe the First Amendment provides freedom both of and from religion: 86% believe it guarantees the right to freely exercise the religion of one’s choosing, while 76% believe it guarantees the right to be free from the influence of religion if one so chooses.

Roughly two-thirds believe it does guarantees separation between the government and both religious bodies (67%) and religious practices (64%), but does not guarantee the barring of religious practices by any individual within a school (69%).

  • While Democrats (74%) are more likely than either Republicans (66%) or Independents (64%) to feel the First Amendment guarantees a separation between the government and religious bodies, it is perhaps more important to recognize the fact that majorities of both parties as well as Independents do see it as a guarantee provided by the amendment.

Free speech is the cornerstone of every right we have.

Mark Twain

When asked to read the text of the First Amendment and then indicate whether or not it guarantees each of a list of individual rights and limitations, roughly eight in ten Americans recognize that the amendment guarantees the ability to speak freely without fear of government censorship or prosecution (79%). Despite some differences, majorities of Americans across the demographic and socioeconomic boards agree that this is a right the Founding Fathers intended us all to have.

A majority of Americans also believe the bill guarantees the ability to speak freely without fear of censorship or prosecution from private companies (62%), while majorities believe it does not guarantee the right to make damaging statements about fellow citizens (74%) or private companies (70%) without limitation.

The First Amendment says nothing about your getting paid to say anything. It just says you can say it.

Penn Jillette

However, Americans appear to hold some confusion as to just how far the free speech guarantee extends. Though the Bill of Rights is focused on limiting government infringement on liberties, two-thirds of Americans believe the First Amendment guarantees the abilities to speak freely without fear of impact on one’s livelihood (67%). However, in some situations this outcome is in fact a very real possibility, as many television and radio personalities can attest.

One area where money and free speech can and often do collide is in the area of donations to political candidates, with a third of Americans (32%) believing the right to donate money, without limit, to politicians as a form of free speech is guaranteed by the first amendment. The truth is a bit more complicated, with donations to candidates much more limited than those made to parties and political committees.

The only security of all is in a free press.

Thomas Jefferson

Few Americans seem to contest the idea of a free press, with 84% each agreeing that freedom to publish, in general, and freedom to publish opinions are guaranteed by the First Amendment.

  • Echo Boomers (79% general, 78% opinions) are less likely than Baby Boomers (90% each) or Matures (87% general, 88% opinions) to feel these rights are guaranteed, though again the most important point is that strong majorities across all age groups affirm this.

All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions.

George Bernard Shaw

Over our nation’s history, social and policy changes have often been driven by means of protest and petition, and so it’s unsurprising to see that vast majorities also recognize that the rights to assemble peacefully (85%) and to petition branches and agencies of the government for action (80%) are granted by the First Amendment.

To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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TABLE 1

PERCEIVED AS GUARANTEED/NOT GUARANTEED BY FIRST AMENDMENT

Please read the following passage from the Bill of Rights. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging this freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ Now, for each of the following, please indicate whether you feel the passage does or does not guarantee it.

Base: U.S. Adults

 

Guarantees this

Does not guarantee this

The right to freely exercise the religion of one’s choosing

%

86

14

The right to assemble peacefully (e.g., organized protests)

%

85

15

Freedom to publish

%

84

16

Freedom to publish opinions

%

84

16

The right to petition branches and agencies of the government for action

%

80

20

The ability to speak freely without fear of government censorship or prosecution

%

79

21

The right to be free from the influence of religion of one so chooses

%

76

24

Separation between government and religious bodies

%

67

33

The ability to speak freely without fear of impact on one’s livelihood

%

67

33

Separation between government and religious practices

%

64

36

The ability to speak freely without fear of censorship or prosecution from private companies

%

62

38

The right to donate money, without limit, to politicians as a form of free speech

%

32

68

The barring of religious practices by any individual within a school

%

31

69

The right to make damaging statements about private companies without limitation

%

30

70

The right to make damaging statements about fellow citizens without limitation

%

26

74

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 2

PERCEIVED AS GUARANTEED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Guarantees This Responses by Gender, Children in Household & Generation

Please read the following passage from the Bill of Rights. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging this freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ Now, for each of the following, please indicate whether you feel the passage does or does not guarantee it.

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Generation

Education

Echo Boomers (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

High School or Less

Some College

College Grad

Post Grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The right to freely exercise the religion of one’s choosing

86

79

86

92

90

81

89

90

92

The right to assemble peacefully (e.g., organized protests)

85

79

86

89

91

80

86

89

96

Freedom to publish

84

79

83

90

87

80

86

88

94

Freedom to publish opinions

84

78

81

90

88

78

85

90

91

The right to petition branches and agencies of the government for action

80

75

80

84

85

76

81

87

86

The ability to speak freely without fear of government censorship or prosecution

79

72

79

85

84

73

79

86

92

The right to be free from the influence of religion of one so chooses

76

74

74

79

75

74

75

79

77

Separation between government and religious bodies

67

66

64

67

73

65

66

68

77

The ability to speak freely without fear of impact on one’s livelihood

67

65

62

72

64

68

65

68

65

Separation between government and religious practices

64

63

64

64

69

65

62

66

65

The ability to speak freely without fear of censorship or prosecution from private companies

62

61

64

65

58

63

61

66

56

The right to donate money, without limit, to politicians as a form of free speech

32

40

34

25

23

34

31

30

25

The barring of religious practices by any individual within a school

31

35

31

30

24

34

31

30

24

The right to make damaging statements about private companies without limitation

30

37

36

25

14

34

30

27

19

The right to make damaging statements about fellow citizens without limitation

26

33

29

20

16

29

25

24

17

 

TABLE 3

PERCEIVED AS GUARANTEED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Guarantees This Responses by Political Party & Political Ideology

Please read the following passage from the Bill of Rights. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging this freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ Now, for each of the following, please indicate whether you feel the passage does or does not guarantee it.

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Political Party

Political Ideology

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The right to freely exercise the religion of one’s choosing

86

90

87

86

89

85

85

The right to assemble peacefully (e.g., organized protests)

85

90

84

87

89

85

81

Freedom to publish

84

88

86

83

86

84

83

Freedom to publish opinions

84

88

84

84

85

84

81

The right to petition branches and agencies of the government for action

80

82

82

80

83

79

80

The ability to speak freely without fear of government censorship or prosecution

79

82

79

81

82

79

76

The right to be free from the influence of religion of one so chooses

76

74

80

76

74

76

79

Separation between government and religious bodies

67

66

74

64

63

68

71

The ability to speak freely without fear of impact on one’s livelihood

67

70

67

63

72

65

63

Separation between government and religious practices

64

65

69

62

62

64

71

The ability to speak freely without fear of censorship or prosecution from private companies

62

62

66

61

64

63

58

The right to donate money, without limit, to politicians as a form of free speech

32

35

33

27

38

28

31

The barring of religious practices by any individual within a school

31

25

39

28

27

31

41

The right to make damaging statements about private companies without limitation

30

27

34

27

31

27

36

The right to make damaging statements about fellow citizens without limitation

26

25

29

21

25

23

32

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 15 and 20, 2014 among 2,236 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #19, February 26, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.