Sunday, January 14, 2007

Do Americans Still Believe in the Principles of the U.S. Constitution?

By Mike Levine

Times Herald-Record
January 14, 2007

Wednesday, December 6, 1989 - In China, pro-democracy students are secretly quoting Jefferson. Lech Walesa said Poles look to Lincoln's writings for inspiration. The freedom movements in Czechoslovakia and East Germany are among the century's great stories.

Liberty is suddenly the worldwide rage.

But is freedom still an American passion? We fly the flag, all right, and in our last presidential election, the Pledge of Allegiance was a big issue. Yet surveys suggest that if the Bill of Rights were voted on today, Americans would turn it down. We're said to have grown intolerant and jaded.

To find out if the principles of freedom are as alive in the mid-Hudson as in East Berlin, I wrote up a ``limits of freedom'' opinion survey and passed it out to 24 seniors at Middletown High School. I also gave the survey to two dozen mid-Hudson adults.

You might want to take it yourself. Remember, this is not a ``right or wrong'' test, but an opinion survey.

1) Freedom of speech should NOT be permitted if it: - damages the credibility of the government.

Agree . . . Disagree

- promotes beliefs that go against religious teachings.

Agree . . . Disagree

- ridicules the president.

Agree . . . Disagree

- voices opposition to any portion of the U.S. Constitution.

Agree . . . Disagree

- defends the burning of the American flag.

Agree . . . Disagree

- only presents one side of an issue.

Agree . . . Disagree

- denies the existence of God.

Agree . . . Disagree

2) If a law enforcement officer suspects someone of a crime, he should be able to arrest that person until evidence is gathered.

Agree . . . Disagree

3) If a person has evidence that would incriminate him in a crime, he should be required to confess.

Agree . . . Disagree

4) Those demonstrating in the streets against official government policy should be arrested.

Agree . . . Disagree

5) If a majority of Americans believe a book is unfair to our nation's reputation, it should be banned.

Agree . . . Disagree

6) Because a majority of Americans are Christian, it should be the official religion of the United States.

Agree . . . Disagree

7) Police should be able to arrest people who they believe are likely to commit crimes.

Agree . . . Disagree

In this questionnaire, each ``agree'' answer was a vote to eliminate freedoms already guaranteed in the Constitution. A ``disagree'' answer was a vote to sustain our Constitutional freedoms.

For libertarians, the good news is that both the high school seniors and the adults voted to keep virtually every freedom (both groups had similar results).

The bad news is a little more than half the respondents rejected the 5th Amendment to the Constitution (Question #3). They said a person should be made to incriminate himself.

More than Over a third of the students said a book that unfairly portrays America should be banned. More than Over a quarter of the respondents said opinions should be stifled that deny the existence of God or that poke fun at the president.

Ironically, a third of the people also said speaking out against any portion of the Constitution should be banned.

There's no intent to lecture here. Patriotic Americans disagree as to the limits of freedom.

But when the Cold War was won, it turned out that America's great weapon wasn't guns or bombs.

It was freedom itself.

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