New Survey: Most Americans Oppose Religious Exemptions to LGBTQ and Reproductive Rights
Overwhelming Majorities of All Religious Groups Embrace a “Do No Harm” Approach to Religious Liberty
Washington, DC — As the Biden administration works to implement a more progressive approach to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that most Americans do not believe religious liberty is being threatened, and vast majorities of Americans oppose exemptions to those rights based on religious beliefs.
“While there is a lot of buzz about religious liberty in public discourse, most Americans do not believe religious liberty is under attack in America today,” notes Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of PRRI. “In fact, there is only one major religious group—white evangelical Protestants—in which a majority believe religious liberty is threatened.”
White evangelical Protestants are the group most likely to think that their religious liberties are being threatened (71%). Among other religious groups, less than half agree that their liberties are being threatened, including white Catholics (42%), white mainline Protestants (42%), and Protestants of color (43%). Among all Americans, 39% say their religious liberties are being threatened.
Most Americans (89%) agree with a “do not harm” approach to religious liberty, in which everyone is free to follow their religious beliefs and practices in their personal lives, provided they do not cause harm to others. Only one in ten (10%) say that everyone is free to follow their own religious beliefs and practices in every part of their lives, including performing their jobs, even if that means excluding certain groups of people.
About one in five Americans (22%) say they favor allowing small business owners to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Three in four Americans (76%), including a majority of white evangelical Protestants (53%), oppose religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people.
Similarly, most Americans oppose allowing hospitals or medical providers to refuse to provide abortion services (34% favor, 65% oppose). A majority of Republicans (56%) favor allowing hospitals or other medical providers to refuse to provide abortion services, while less than four in ten independents (37%) and only 15% of Democrats favor such refusals. A majority of white evangelical Protestants (63%) support these refusals, though less than four in ten of all other religious groups and religiously unaffiliated Americans agree.
Only 13% of Americans favor allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide contraceptives to women who have prescriptions for them, if doing so violates their religious beliefs; notably, Americans are half as likely as they were in 2018 to favor these refusals.
The new PRRI analysis also explores several other divisive questions relating to religious liberty in the U.S., including:
Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether people who would otherwise be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine should be allowed to opt out for religious reasons, with 48% supporting religious exemptions and 51% opposing. Americans are much less in favor of allowing religiously based exemptions to vaccines required for children to attend public schools, with only about one in four Americans (27%) favoring children attending school without having been vaccinated, in accordance with their parents’ religious beliefs.
More than three in four Americans oppose allowing religiously affiliated agencies receiving taxpayer funding to refuse to accept qualified gay (77%) or lesbian (77%) couples as foster parents. Just one in five Americans favor allowing these refusals on religious grounds. When it comes to adoptions, nearly eight in ten Americans oppose allowing religiously affiliated agencies receiving taxpayer funding to refuse qualified gay (78%) or lesbian (77%) couples.
The PRRI survey shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose (84%) allowing professionals—including doctors, lawyers, teachers, and social workers—to refuse to provide services to particular groups of people if doing so violates their religious beliefs. More than eight in ten members of all religious groups—except white evangelical Protestants (68%)—oppose these religiously based service refusals.
Nearly four in ten Republicans (38%), compared to 25% of independents and 8% of Democrats, favor religiously based refusals to provide reproductive health services for transgender people. Minorities of major religious groups favor religiously based refusals to provide reproductive health services to transgender people, though white evangelical Protestants, at 40% in support, are the most likely to agree with such refusals.
More than six in ten Americans (62%) believe that privately owned corporations should be required to cover contraception in their employees’ insurance plans, even if it violates a company owner’s religious beliefs, while 36% say they should not. Republicans (43%) are less likely than independents (61%) and Democrats (80%) to support requiring privately owned corporations to cover employees’ contraception.
When it comes to perceptions of discrimination, majorities of Republicans (52%) and white evangelical Protestants (51%) say there is a lot of discrimination against white people; similar proportions say there is a lot of discrimination against Christians (53% and 59%, respectively). This perception of discrimination against Christians and white people is growing stronger—the percentage of Republicans who think there is a lot of discrimination against white people has increased, from 36% in 2015 to 52% in 2021. By comparison, the percentage of Republicans who think there is a lot of discrimination against Black people has held steady, at 46% in 2015 and 45% in 2021.
The full report, “Is Religious Liberty a Shield or a Sword? How Americans Think About Religious Freedom in the Context of LGBTQ and Reproductive Rights,” is available on PRRI’s website.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI among a random sample of adults (ages 18 and up) living in the United States and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel. The survey included a national sample (N=1,019) representing all 50 states. Interviews were conducted online between January 15 and 18, 2021. The survey was made possible by a generous grant from The Gill Foundation. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 3.2 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, which includes the design effect for the survey of 1.1.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.
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