Freedom of the press trumps respect for religion in a new survey

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Screenshot of Charlie Hebdo cover illustration.

Screenshot of Charlie Hebdo cover illustration.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Most Americans who know about the deadly attack on the Paris headquarters of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine say it’s OK that the weekly featured cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows 76 percent of Americans know of the Jan. 7 attack, and among this group 60 percent of Americans support the magazine’s right to publish these controversial images, while 28 percent disapprove.

However, one in four Americans overall offered no opinion because, they said, they had not heard about the violent attack where 10 artists and writers and two policemen were murdered.

The survey of 1,003 U.S. adults was conducted Jan. 22-25, two weeks after the attack. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points in the portion of the report that deals only with those who said they had heard about the incident.

The survey looked more closely to see how members of this group explained their views.

Of those who supported the right to publish, despite traditional Islamic prohibitions on showing images of the Prophet Muhammad:

  • 70 percent cited freedom of speech and the press to explain their view, according to Pew.
  • Several noted that Charlie Hebdo mocked all religions. Said one survey respondent: “They’re equal opportunity insulters.”
  • Most were white (70 percent), male (67 percent) and Republican or leaning to the GOP (70 percent).  And they represented majorities of all major religious groups, as well as the religiously unaffiliated.

Those who disapproved of the French magazine’s actions:

  • Divided among people who said publishers “should respect religious beliefs” (35 percent) and those who said they should avoid offensive, politically incorrect or inappropriate speech (31 percent). “It’s a matter of respect — things you just don’t do,” said one respondent.
  • Only 7 percent would squelch publication to avoid violence, threats or anger.
  • This group includes women (33 percent), racial and ethnic minorities (48 percent) and people who favor the Democratic Party (55 percent).

But Americans’ attitudes toward the Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not affect their views on whether U.S. media will publish content that may offend some people’s religious beliefs:

  • 48 percent expect there will be no impact on U.S. news media.
  • 24 percent said American publishers will hesitate to publish such material.
  • 16 percent thought publishers would be more willing to do so.
  • 12 percent offered no opinion.


  • Stephen Lewis

    As the world’s first prophet of God with a cartoonist background (you gotta love God’s sense of irony..) I am glad my fellow countrymen and women have the good sense to never let any organized religion dictate civil or human rights protection. If you let religious believers dictate your freedom you have lost it already. Good show, America!

  • Finally some good news.
    No religious claim is above reproach.

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  • Larry

    Respect for religion is hardly synonymous with freedom of religion or even civil liberties in general. Putting something above reproach or criticism attacks the rights of others of expression and exercise of their beliefs.

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  • For whom does the bell toll?
    lOne million demonstrators in Paris on January 11, 2015, chanted the slogan, “Je suis Charlie,”—“I am Charlie,” while brandishing a pen, which has become the symbol of assassinated freedom of expression; this is the official, unanimously agreed-on version of the media outlets and the political parties. But in reality, when you know what the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo really is, you would have had to attribute to each of those demonstrators the following sentiments: I am in favor of anarchy and sacrilege, like the cartoonists who depicted the Blessed Virgin in an obscene manner in their Christmas issue; I am a nihilist and a blasphemer like those who, a few years ago, drew two recycling bins with the caption, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” or more recently showed a condom in the form of a Host.
    On January 8 at noon, in the rain, Notre Dame Cathedral sounded the death knell. For whom did that bell toll?

  • Dave

    First you start with laughter and comedic-ridicule towards the idea of atheism and its goofy pronouncements of a universe where nothing makes everything . . .. And then you move on to religion where any God should be big enough to take insults from goons and kooks (skeptics), even when they hide their vitriol behind comic relief or the stupidity of an self-proclaimed academic angle.

    Let everyone live their life until a natural death at a hopefully very old age.

    Eternity can wait until the earth is a cold rock and obviously so can the God of all creation.

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  • Aaron

    Atheism is lack of belief in any god(s). It says nothing about the origins of the universe. That’s your straw man.

    Not quite sure what you’re doing with the rest of your post, though…

  • Johanna

    I was thinking the same thing.

  • Anything which insists on our unquestioned obedience
    must be mocked frequently and loudly.

    And I never tire of it! 🙂




  • “start with laughter and comedic-ridicule towards the idea of atheism”

    Ridicule Atheism? Sure.
    By all means – Bring it on!
    At least nobody will get shot anyone over it!

    I noticed how you didn’t manage to prove that god was real, by the way.

  • Yes and it is okay to tell me I will burn in hell if I don’t repent my sins.

  • Eldo Klugg

    Wrong. Again. Will there ever come a day when we have to stop explaining that supporting someone’s right to speak is not the same as approving of what they said? Neither the left nor the right seem able to comprehend that you don’t have to support what Charlie Hedbo said to stand with them against assassins and religious fanatics.

  • Mark Borok

    Also, they have to literally be named Charles. If we’re being literal about it, that is.

  • Luis

    You can satire with your elegant socks on. Yes to freedom, yes to respect and tolerance.

  • Jack

    It is very good news — and reason to celebrate the common sense of the American people.

  • Jack

    I am actually agreeing on this one with Max and Larry.

  • Jack

    Joseph, the issue is not Charlie Hebdo but the mindset of its attackers. This is a totalitarian mindset that, when operating in Muslim-majority countries, has no problem killing people for simply denying publicly that Muhammad is a prophet of God. Such deniers could be the most polite and decent people on the planet, but once they question publicly the beliefs of Islam, radical Islamists will be targeting them.

  • Jack

    Eldo, from the polls cited in this article, it appears the right is considerably more likely than the left to agree with you. On the left, it seems you have your work of persuasion cut out for you.

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