Three-quarters of Americans believe business owners should have the freedom to run their businesses according to their religious beliefs, although Democrats and Republicans differ sharply about the government’s involvement if such beliefs are unpopular or even discriminatory, according to a new landmark study on attitudes about religious liberty.
The inaugural Religious Freedom Index, released Wednesday by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, shows that Americans broadly support religious freedom in the U.S., although their views vary depending on the specific topic.
The goal of the Index is to provide “a 30,000-foot view of changes in American attitudes on religious freedom” by surveying 1,000 Americans’ attitudes on questions within six categories: religious pluralism, religion and policy, religious sharing, religion in society, church and state, and religion in action, Becket said. The Index will be released each fall.
This year’s Religious Freedom Index composite score, 67, will serve “as a baseline for future trends,” Becket said.
“The central finding from this first year’s Index is that religious freedom has survived the culture wars,” the report says.
The Index found that 75 percent of Americans believe the “freedom for people to run their business or private organizations according to their religious beliefs” should be protected.
One of the “most significant” political divides in the survey involved the topic of business owners and private organizations that hold unpopular or “discriminatory views.”
The question asked those surveyed to choose between two hypothetical options:
- “Smith believes that business owners or private organizations holding unpopular views – or what some might consider repulsive or discriminatory views – deserve to be boycotted, harassed or even shut down. Society should not tolerate any type of view or behavior that could be construed as hateful or discriminatory.”
- “Jones believes that business owners or private organizations have the right to hold any view they want – even if it is no longer politically correct and seems hateful and discriminatory to others – without the threat of losing their jobs or business. A society founded on freedom of speech and freedom of religion should tolerate the expression of these freedoms for all citizens.”
Americans, by a margin of 57-43 percent, said the view of “Jones” came closest to their attitudes. Yet Republicans and Democrats were sharply divided. Fifty-five percent of Democrats said “Smith” came closest to their views (they favor boycotting, harassing or shutting down discriminatory businesses), while 73 percent of Republicans picked “Jones” (they believe businesses have the right to hold any views).
The Index also found that:
- 76 percent believe the “freedom for any individual or group to believe that marriage is the union of a man and woman without having to worry about facing discrimination, penalties, or fines from government” should be protected.
- 69 percent believe the “freedom for religious groups or organizations to make their own employment and leadership decisions without government interference” should be protected.
- 64 percent believe the “freedom to practice one’s religion in daily life or at work even if it creates an imposition or inconvenience for others” should be protected.
The annual survey is scheduled to take place each year between mid-September and mid-October, Becket said.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Phot courtesy: Getty Images/Suwaree Tangbovornpichet
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.