Down With Free Speech!

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NEW YORK: May we speak freely for a moment? The results are in from a new survey on the First Amendment, and they don't make for pretty reading. The Freedom Forum's study shows that while most Americans believe in free speech, the old adage about not agreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it has not yet rubbed off.

Of course, nearly everyone polled was in favor of freedom of speech, the press, religion, association and all that yada. Get down to the specifics, however, and it's a little different: 53 percent were against displaying art that may offend; 47 percent would ban songs with distasteful lyrics and 49 percent want a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning which, last time the courts checked, was a form of free speech.

"Americans truly believe they believe in free speech," says Paul McMasters, the forum's First Amendment ombudsman. But when it comes to "the speech of the radical, the rascal, even the revolting, we become unsure." Oh, and a full one-third believe newspapers have too much freedom, and would stop them printing important government documents such as the Pentagon Papers. Heaven only knows what they think of new-media journalists.