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News Release | Majority of Americans Still Support Contraception Coverage Mandate

[06.02.2014]

Americans overwhelmingly oppose allowing small businesses to refuse services on religious liberty grounds 

WASHINGTON – With the anticipated United States Supreme Court decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases expected to be handed down in the next few weeks, most Americans believe that employers, with the exception of churches and other places of worship, should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover the cost of contraception, a new survey finds.

The PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), finds majorities of Americans believe that publicly held corporations (61 percent) and privately owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby (57 percent) should be required to provide contraception coverage at no cost to their employees. Majorities also believe that religiously affiliated hospitals (56 percent) and religiously affiliated colleges (52 percent) should be required to abide by the so-called contraception coverage mandate. Americans are more divided over whether privately owned small businesses should have to meet this requirement (51 percent agree, 46 percent disagree). Only 42 percent of Americans, however, think that churches or other houses of worship should be required to provide health insurance with contraceptive coverage, while 53 percent are opposed.

“Nearly six-in-ten Americans believe that privately owned, for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby should be required to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide insurance coverage that covers contraception at no cost to their employees,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Americans make a clear distinction between churches, which most believe should be exempt, and other types of organizations.”

Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, the two religious groups receiving the most attention from media reporting on opposition to the contraception coverage mandate, hold different opinions on the policy. While a majority of Catholics believe that publicly held corporations (56 percent), privately owned corporations (54 percent) and privately owned small businesses (53 percent) should be required to provide employees with insurance that covers contraceptives, evangelicals mostly disagree. Less than half of white evangelicals agree that publicly held corporations (45 percent), privately owned corporations (40 percent) and privately owned small businesses (34 percent) should be required to comply with the contraception coverage mandate. White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only major religious group among whom a majority do not support the contraception coverage mandate for privately owned corporations.

There is a more than 40-point partisan gap on the question before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases, with 74 percent of Democrats saying privately owned corporations should be required to provide health insurance that covers contraception at no cost, compared to only 33 percent of Republicans. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Republicans say privately owned corporations should not be required to comply. A majority (56%) of independents side with Democrats in supporting the contraception coverage mandate for privately owned corporations.

On another issue at the intersection of religious liberties and business, Americans overwhelmingly reject the notion that small business owners should be allowed to refuse to provide services or goods to certain groups of individuals, even if doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs. Fewer than 1-in-5 Americans say that small business owners should be able to refuse services on religious grounds to individuals who happen to be gay or lesbian (16 percent), atheist (15 percent), Jewish (12 percent), or black (10 percent).

“Americans clearly oppose the idea that small business owners should be allowed to refuse services on religious grounds to people based on their sexual orientation, race, or religion,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s Research Director.

While white evangelical Protestants are somewhat more likely than Americans overall to say that small business owners ought to be able to refuse service to gay and lesbian people (26 percent) and atheists (21 percent), a strong majority remain opposed to this proposition. Evangelicals are not more likely than Americans overall to say the same about people who are Jewish (12 percent) or black (8 percent).

Among the findings: 

Support for Contraception Coverage Mandate Unchanged

With the exception of churches and other places of worship, most Americans believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception at no cost. However, Americans draw distinctions based on the type and size of the employer. Opinions about the types of employers that should be required to provide health insurance that includes contraception coverage are largely unchanged from 2012.

  • A majority of unaffiliated Americans believe that any type of employer—including churches and places of worship (58 percent)—should provide their employees with health insurance that covers contraception.
  • There are also dramatic differences by generation, with younger Americans expressing greater support for employer-provided contraception coverage across categories of employer. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) young adults (age 18-29) say privately owned corporations should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception, compared to 49 percent of seniors (age 65+). Young adults are also more likely to say that even churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this type of coverage (45 percent vs. 28 percent).

Perceptions of Threats to Religious Liberty

A majority (54 percent) of Americans believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today, compared to 39 percent who expressed that belief two years ago. However, this shift in perception has had no significant impact on attitudes regarding the contraception coverage mandate.

There is substantial disagreement about whether religious liberty is being threatened today by political affiliation, religious affiliation, and age.

  • Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that religious liberty is being threatened (80 percent vs. 40 percent). A majority of Democrats (55 percent) say that religious liberty is not under threat in the United States. Independents are more closely divided with 51 percent reporting that religious liberty is under threat, while 43 percent say it is not.
  • More than any other religious group, white evangelical Protestants believe that religious liberty is being threatened in the United States today. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) white evangelical Protestants express this view, compared to 55 percent of Catholics and 53 percent of white mainline Protestants. Half (50 percent) of minority Protestants also perceive a threat to religious liberty in the United States, but a substantial minority (42 percent) disagree. Less than one-third (31 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans believe religious liberty is being threatened, while twice as many (62 percent) say it is not.
  • More than 6-in-10 (61 percent) seniors (age 65+) believe that religious liberty is being threatened, while only roughly 4-in-10 (41 percent) young adults agree. Most (54 percent) younger Americans (age 18-29) do not believe religious liberty is being threatened.

Concerns about the Role of Religion in Public Life

Americans are divided about what constitutes the greatest problem regarding the role of religion in public life. Thirty percent say the removal of religion from public places is the most serious problem, while 25 percent say government interference with free religious practice is the most serious problem. Roughly one-quarter (24 percent) say that religious groups attempting to pass laws that force their beliefs on others is the most serious problem, while approximately 1-in-10 (9 percent) say the lack of protection for smaller religious groups is the biggest problem.

Town Hall Meetings and Public Prayer

Nearly 8-in-10 (77 percent) Americans support allowing public officials to open meetings, such as town hall meetings, with a prayer. Only 20 percent of the public expresses opposition to prayer in these settings. There is considerable agreement in views about public prayer among religious, political and age groups. Even a majority (58 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans support allowing public officials to open meetings with a prayer.

 Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here. Read more about the findings 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 May 14, 2014 and May 18, 2014, by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,011 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (511 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.