The Public Religion Research Institute recently conducted a survey among 1007 adults over the course of March 7 to March 11, 2012 about their opinions regarding religios freedom in the United States and whether they perceive it is under attack in recent years. Here are some of their findings:
First of all, the perception of religious freedom is, unsurprisingly, a function of one’s political party. The group most fearful of the government interfering with their religious liberties is the Tea Party at 72%. I honestly thought the number would have been higher since they tend to believe that the government is the source of all of our problems these days. Next up are the mainstream Republicans at 60%. Again, I thought this number would have been higher given the strong correlation between modern day Republican ideals and social / religious conservatism. We cross the halfway mark with Independents at 42%, and finally Democrats at 31%. I’m not too surprised at those numbers, since I generally feel that most Christians in this country are of the couch potato variety (“I believe in God and I go to church because that’s what I was brought up to do, etc.”) and Democrats tend to be more secular in their outlook than their Republican counterparts.
There were a couple of interesting findings when considering religious demographics, though. Specifically, the only religious demographic whose majority feels their religious freedoms are being threatened are white evangelical Protestants. The remainder of those surveyed (Catholics, mainline / minority Protestants, unaffiliated) did not share this belief.
For those who did, PRRI had this to say:
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%).
Unfortunately, the open ended format of the questionnaire means the range of answers are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible that the 23% of people who think the government is needlessly involved in religion also think the contraception mandate is wrong too, but see it as a symptom of a larger program of “intolerance” against believers. As with most of these surveys, I’d like to see a much larger sample size (at least an order of magnitude) done over enough of a range of geographic locations such that the subdivision into any particular demographic still leaves enough to possibly divide them further to look at the behavior of subgroups withing that population. But that’s the topic of another post.
With the single exception of churches or other places of worship, majorities of Americans believe that 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.
The remainder of the article is devoted almost exclusively to describing the results summarized in the chart below, so I’ll shortcut the process by just showing you the executive summary:
You can see three clear trends:
- White evangelicals generally oppose contraception coverage regardless of the religious affiliation of the provider.
- White Catholics oppose contraception coverage if the providers have any religious affiliation, but generally favor if they are public corporations or private small businesses.
- Everyone else favors coverage unless the organization is an actual church or place of worship.
Most people generally seem to feel the same way about this as they do about same sex marriage: the church should be under no obligation to directly act against what is, to their interpretation, forbidden by their religion. Entities with religious affiliation – and thus an additional degree of separation and greater involvement in the real world – are not allowed the same freedom to behave the same way.
What surprises me somewhat is the white Catholic demographic. Given the number of women who use birth control of some kind, I would have thought that there would have been a greater acceptance of companies, colleges, etc. with religious affiliation to provide low- or no-coast contraception … especially since they wouldn’t have to provide it themselves, but offer health insurance through a provider that would do it for them. I think this is a good example of “having it both ways”: the church can do what they like, as long as contraception is still available through other means.
A problem with this mentality, in my opinion, is that if this becomes the norm, Republicans and evangelicals will take it to the next step of allowing anyone with a moral objection to keep their employees from accessing contraception. Some may argue this is a “slippery slope” fallacy, but it’s already been proposed. They see such a government mandate as an affront to religious “freedom”. Clearly, as the above survey results show, this is not the case, even if you include all of those people who feel the government is interfering in a “general” sense.
I suppose it goes without saying that I believe this argument is utter crap. If you want a reason why, all you have to do is consider the reaction of a rank-and-file Republican when you mention the phrase “Sharia Law”. They will go from beating their chests about holding sacred the liberty and freedom of religious institutions across the land to spinning some conspiracy theory about how Muslims are trying to take over the country and promote the “destruction of the national existence of the United States“. It’s clear that the talk of the contraception mandate of recent weeks isn’t about religious freedom. It’s about safeguarding Christianity and making sure it reserves the exclusive right to inflict its outdated morality on people who neither share the same views nor have the luxury of working elsewhere. I also find it difficult to trust any group of lawmakers pushing for anything they call religious “freedom” when many of them consider people of another religion (or none at all) inherently disloyal or treasonous. It doesn’t help their case very much.
If you work for (or live in) a church or a monastery, then I suppose you have to live according to the rules of whatever religious affiliation your employers have, up to a reasonable level of expectation. The problem with this most recent argument about contraception is that it lacks a basic understanding of both how contraception works and when it is used. Allowing religious groups to make these ill-educated decisions under the guise of “morality” only further supports the perception by mainstream believers and non-believers alike that their desires are not based on what is right, but about being right … and forcing everyone they can to agree with them.