What the British think of Freedom of Speech

The religious section of 26th annual British Social Attitudes survey recently published (10 January, 2010) by NatCen, the UK’s largest independent social policy research organisation, asked several questions on Freedom of Speech. The results are summarised here.

Q. Some books or films offend people who have strong religious beliefs. Should books and films that attack religions be banned by law or should they be allowed?

Should be allowed or banned – % saying:
Allowed Banned
Definitely Probably Probably Definitely
33 38 16 11

The great majority of Britons support or tend to support freedom of speech (71%). They are against legal restrictions on criticising (attacking) a religion even though the followers of that religion might be offended.

A third (33%) are definitely against legal restrictions whereas only a tenth (11%) would definitely support them.

People also make a distinction between attack in the critical sense and attack that encourages violence (or at least uses relevant terminology) because when asked about “tolerance of religious extremists who claim their religion is the one true faith and other religions should be considered enemies”, the majority are clearly in favour of restricting the expression of such views.

The phrase “religious extremist” was underlined in the questionnaire, but there was no explanation of what it meant.

Nearly a half (45%) would definitely ban public meetings and a third (34%) would ban books. Only 6% would definitely allow meetings and 7% allow books.

See next two tables.

Q. There are some people whose views are considered extreme by the majority. Consider religious extremists [underlined emphasis in original], that is people who believe that their religion is the only true faith and all other religions should be considered as enemies. Do you think such people should be allowed to…

Should such people be allowed to: – % saying:
Action Allowed Not allowed
Definitely Probably Probably Definitely
Hold public meetings to express their views 6 18 24 45
Publish books expressing their views 7 27 23 34

Q. Using this card please tell me how much you agree or disagree with this statement. People have a perfect right to give a speech defending Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda.

The right to give a speech defending Bin Laden or Al Qaeda – % who:
Agree Disagree
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly
8 23 19 46

The sample base for each of the above three questions was 2247, 1975 and 2239 respectively. The sample represents the adult population of Great Britain.

Where the % figures don’t add up to 100% the difference is those who didn’t have an answer or who refused.

The full survey, British Social Attitudes, 26th Report, 2010, is available from SAGE, price £50.00.

The two sections concerning religion, Part 4 – Religion in Britain and the United States (this part includes the questions and statistics mentioned in this post), and, Part 5 – Religious faith and contemporary attitudes, can be purchased separately (£8.22 including VAT each) and downloaded from here.