Study Finds Broad Support For Religious Liberty

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November 20, 2019

More than two-thirds of Americans support protecting religious liberty, according to a new survey.

The survey, which was commissioned by the nonprofit Becket Fund, found 67 percent overall support for religious liberty, calculated by asking respondents questions about issues ranging from religious pluralism to the separation of church and state and the role of churches in society.

"Even after decades of religious freedom being pulled into the culture wars, Americans accept and support a broad interpretation of religious freedom," the study reads. "Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of the government penalizing groups and individuals for living out their religious beliefs."

Government regulators and political leaders have shown an increased willingness to persecute churches for living out their faith. Failed presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke told CNN that he would rescind nonprofit exemptions on religious organizations that did not support gay marriage. The former Texas congressman received applause from the studio audience, but the American public largely opposes such sentiments, according to the new study.

A vast majority of respondents expressed opposition to government interference in religious matters. About 75 percent of respondents said they believed individuals and groups should be able to maintain potentially controversial beliefs about marriage without facing discrimination, fines, or penalties. Nearly 90 percent said they supported the individual right to practice religion on a daily basis without the potential for harm, either from other individuals or the federal government.

Four out of five respondents also said they support minority religious rights. The study listed examples including abstaining from alcohol, not eating pork or beef, and wearing a religious garment such as a turban or burka. The study also found agreement between Republican and Democratic respondents. On the question of minority religious rights, 85 percent of Democratic respondents and 75 percent of Republican respondents expressed support.

The source of the most disagreement among respondents involved the issue of separation of church and state. A majority of respondents said they approve of the government's use of religious symbols or language in public displays, while 44 percent oppose such public displays.

Younger respondents also tended to express more support for the individual practicing of faith in the workplace on a daily basis, although there was not a large divide between different generations of respondents.

The study used an online survey of 1,000 adults distributed across the United States. Mark Rienzi, president and senior counsel for the Becket Fund, said the group plans on maintaining the survey, so that policymakers will not have to approach the issue based on viral social media campaigns or flash-in-the-pan controversies.

"Over time, we hope the Religious Freedom Index will become an essential resource to anyone who studies attitudes about religion and religious freedom in America," he said in a press release.