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Child Dev. 1995 Feb;66(1):152-66.

Adolescents' and young adults' conceptions of civil liberties: freedom of speech and religion.

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Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


This study examined adolescents' and young adults' conceptions of freedom of speech and religion (civil liberties). 48 adolescents and young adults in 3 grade levels (mean ages 12-8, 16-10, and 19-6) were administered a structured interview containing assessments of civil liberties in general, in straightforward (unconflicted) applications, and in conflict with other social and moral concerns, including law, physical and psychological harm, and equality of opportunity. Freedom of speech and religion were conceptualized as universal rights and applied to social events in unconflicted contexts at all ages. A diverse array of rationales, differentiated according to type of freedom, were used at all ages to ground conceptions of universal freedoms. Judgments of civil liberties in conflicts exhibited several sources of variation, including developmental differences, situational or contextual variation determined by the particular types of issues in conflict, and individual differences. Results are consistent with the proposition that judgments of civil liberties reflect age-related patterns of coordination of delimited social and moral concepts rather than general orientations.

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