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News Release | Majority of Americans Do Not Believe Religious Liberty is Under Attack

[03.15.2012]

Among Those Who Believe Religious Liberty is Threatened, Only 6 Percent Cite Contraceptive Coverage Controversy as Reason

Washington, DC— On the heels of a months-long heated debate on religious liberty, a new national survey finds that a majority (56%) of Americans do NOT believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. Roughly 4-in-10 (39%) believe religious liberty is under attack.

The new PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, allowed those who said religious liberty is under attack to explain in their own words why they felt the right of religious liberty is being threatened. Despite the recent heavy media focus on contraceptive coverage in the religious liberty debate, only 6% cited the contraception mandate issue. The most frequently cited reasons were perceptions that religion was being removed from the public square (23%) or that government was interfering with religion (20%).

“Some religious leaders, most prominently Catholic officials, have attempted to define the debate on the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage mandate as a question of religious liberty, most Americans do not believe religious liberty is under attack today,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Nearly 6-in-10 Catholics do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened. The only religious group in which a majority believes religious liberty is being threatened in America today is evangelicals.”

This survey also finds those most likely to believe religious liberty is under attack are Republicans, white evangelical Protestants, and Americans age 65 and older.

“Although the debate surrounding the contraception mandate has garnered significant media attention over the last month, it is not at the forefront of Americans minds when they think about threats to religious liberty,”  said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Rather, the minority of Americans who believe religious liberty is threatened are much more animated by concerns about religion in the public square, such as the issue of teacher-led prayer or public displays of religion in public schools.”

Among the Findings:

Most (56%) Americans do not believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. However, nearly 4-in-10 (39%) believe that religious liberty is threatened today.

  • Majorities of Tea Party members (72%) Republicans (60%), and seniors (56%) believe that religious liberty is being threatened.  White evangelical Protestants (61%) are the only major religious group that believes religious liberty is threatened in America today.
  • On the other hand, majorities of Democrats (69%), Independents (58%), and Millennials (73%) do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened today.  Majorities of Catholics, minority Protestants, white mainline Protestants and the unaffiliated also do not believe the religious liberty is being threatened in America today.
  • When Americans who believe that religious liberty is being threatened today were asked to explain in their own words how religious liberty is being threatened, only 6% mention the recent debate around the contraception coverage mandate. The most frequently mentioned reasons are the removal or God and religion from the public square (23%), government interference in religion (20%), and hostility toward Christians or religion (10%).

With the single exception of churches or other places of worship, majorities of Americans believe that other types of employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception at no cost. However, there is more agreement about this requirement for some types of employers than others.

  • Roughly 6-in-10 Americans say that publicly held corporations (62%) and religiously affiliated hospitals (57%) should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception. A slim majority of Americans believe that religiously affiliated colleges (54%), privately owned small businesses (53%), and religiously affiliated social service agencies (52%) should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception.
  • About 4-in-10 (42%) Americans say churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this coverage to their employees.

More than 6-in-10 (63%) Americans say that religiously affiliated agencies that receive federal funding should not be able to refuse to place children with qualified gay and lesbian couples. About one-third of Americans say agencies that receive taxpayer money should be able to refuse.

A slim majority (52%) of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and 44% oppose. The survey also found religious liberty concerns were active among a subset of those who oppose same-sex marriage. When Americans who initially oppose same-sex marriage are asked whether they would support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry if the law guaranteed that no church or congregation would be required to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples, support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry increases 6 points, from 52% to 58%.

Read the topline questionnaire and methodology here.
Read the RNS story here.
 
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between March 7, 2012 and March 11, 2012 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,007 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (300 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.
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