People For the American Way was founded in 1981 by Norman Lear, Barbara Jordan, Father Theodore Hesburgh, and Andrew Heiskell. The following Statement of Purpose was adopted by the founders and other civic, religious, and business leaders who comprised the initial Board of Directors.
In times of hardship, in times of crises, societies throughout history have experienced wrenching dislocations in their fundamental values and beliefs. We are alarmed that some of the current voices of stridency and division may replace those of reason and unity. If these voices continue unchallenged, the results will be predictable: a rise in “demonology” and hostility, a breakdown in community and social spirit, a deterioration of free and open dialogue, and the temptation to grasp at simplistic solutions for complex problems.
People For the American Way was established to address these matters. Our purpose is to meet the challenges of discord and fragmentation with an affirmation of “the American Way.” By this, we mean pluralism, individuality, freedom of thought, expression and religion, a sense of community, and tolerance and compassion for others. People For the American Way will reach out to all Americans and affirm that in our society, the individual still matters; that there is reason to believe in the future – not to despair of it – and that we must strengthen the common cords that connect us as humans and citizens.
The long-term agenda of People For the American Way is broad. It includes reducing social tension and polarizations, encouraging community participation, fostering understanding among different segments of our society, and increasing the level and quality of public dialogue. As an educational institution, we shall communicate with the American people through printed materials, radio, television, public lectures and discussions.
We will gather information, analyze it, and distribute our findings to the public in a manner that provides for full and fair exposition on the issues. Our highest purpose is to nurture a national climate that encourages and enhances the human spirit rather than one which divides people into hostile camps.
By educating the American people and raising their level of understanding about the basic tenets by which our society is sustained, People For the American Way will fulfill its mission.