Half of all Americans say the First Amendment "goes too far" in the rights it guarantees -- a 10 percentage point increase in barely a year and more than double the proportion that offered a similarly negative view just two years ago, according to a survey by the First Amendment Center.
"Clearly the terrorist attacks have taken a toll," Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, said last week at the National Press Club. "Principles that sound good in the abstract are a little less appealing when your greatest fear is getting on an airplane."
The survey found that 49 percent agreed that "the First Amendment goes too far in the rights that it guarantees," up from 39 percent in a poll the center conducted last year before the terrorist attacks. The latest poll was co-sponsored by the American Journalism Review.
A total of 1,000 randomly selected adults were interviewed by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The margin of sampling error for the overall results was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The public appears to have been souring on the First Amendment even before Sept. 11, Paulson cautioned. Two years ago, only 22 percent agreed that the First Amendment went too far.
April Brackett of the University of Connecticut survey center said the earlier decline was linked to public dissatisfaction with the way the news media covered the 2000 presidential election and the saturation coverage of the disappearance of Chandra Levy.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN: The upcoming anniversary of Sept. 11 has spurred a new dust-up in the ongoing battle over school curriculum.
Think tankers weighed in on classroom content last week in a new collection of essays put together by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation called "September 11: What Our Children Need to Know."
"From Day One the typical guidance being offered to teachers about 9/11was to worry about kids' feelings and tolerance and emotion, but not to focus on the content that might help kids to understand their world: the history, the civics, the religious issues," said Chester E. Finn Jr., Fordham Foundation head and a former Reagan Department of Education official.
The National Education Association infuriated cultural conservatives in recent weeks when it launched a "Remember Sept. 11" section on its Web site. In the report's introduction, Finn writes that in browsing the site, "the dominant impression is one of psychotherapy via the Internet."
But in an interview last week, Finn said the point was not to rap the NEA's knuckles. "It's not that what's there is, for the most part, offensive," he said. "Basically the sin is one of omission rather than commission."
"I think what 9/11has done is crystallize a much larger tussle within the social studies field broadly," Finn said. "Is it mostly about feelings and attitudes and niceness, or is it really about knowledge, the content of things such as history, geography and civics?"
The Fordham Foundation report includes 23 short essays from big-name thinkers including Lynne Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute; William J. Bennett of Empower America; Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations; Craig Kennedy of the German Marshall Fund; William Damon of the Hoover Institution; Kenneth R. Weinstein of the Hudson Institute; Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute; and Andrew J. Rotherham of the Progressive Policy Institute.
The report is available online at www.fordhamfoundation.org.
CONFERENCES: The U.S. Institute of Peace is convening a host of major players for a 9/11 anniversary conference this Thursday, "9/11 a Year On: America's Challenges in a Changed World." The conference features Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); U.S envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad; Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca; former national security advisers Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Brent Scowcroft; and Brookings Institution head Strobe Talbott. You can watch and listen real-time via the Internet at www.usip.org.
ELECTION UPDATE: The first statewide vote to implement instant runoff voting ended in an avalanche of "no" votes last week as Alaska's Measure 1 was handily defeated 64 percent to 36 percent. Opposition from the Democratic Party, the state League of Women Voters, several newspapers "and a lack of general understanding of the mechanics of instant runoff voting and the problems it addresses contributed to the defeat," concluded Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy.
PEOPLE: Frederick Barton has joined the Center for Strategic and International Studies as the new co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project. Barton, who comes from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is a former United Nations deputy high commissioner for refugees.
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