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The Role of Agent and Social Context in Judgments of Freedom of Speech and Religion

Charles C. Helwig
Child Development
Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), pp. 484-495
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131673
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131673
Page Count: 12
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The Role of Agent and Social Context in Judgments of Freedom of Speech and Religion
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Abstract

This study examined children's, adolescents', and college students' judgments of the rights of child and adult agents to freedom of speech and religion in 3 social contexts: the general level of society, the school, and the family. Two hundred forty participants, evenly divided into 5 grade levels (mean ages 6,6, 8,5, 10,6, 12,4, and 22,7) made judgments of the legitimacy of authority prohibition, rule evaluation, generalizability, and rule violation for all freedom/social context/agent combinations. Concepts of freedom of speech and religion were found to emerge in the early elementary school years, and endorsements of freedoms were increasingly affected by social context and agent with age. College students were less likely than any other age group to affirm children's freedom of religion in the family context. Considerations of the mental competence and maturity of agents and the potential for harm to ensue from acting on freedoms played an important part in the decisions of older, but not younger, participants.

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