EWTN survey: Catholic voters back religious freedom, but aren't always consistent

Religious freedom flag Cross Credit Amanda Wayne Shutterstock CNA Amanda Wayne/Shutterstock.

Catholic likely voters tend to be strong supporters of religious freedom and conscientious objections in general, but conversations still need to take place to help bridge the gaps between Catholic opinion and a consistent Catholic life.

The state of Catholic opinion was the focus of a RealClear Opinion Research survey, sponsored by EWTN Global Catholic Network. It reached 1,757 Catholic likely voters over June 15-23. It claims a 95% credibility level of plus or minus 2.58 percentage points.  

Survey respondents came from a wide range of self-described Catholics. About 68% of respondents described their Catholic faith as important to them. Aside from weddings and funerals, 40% of respondents said they attend church weekly or more, while another 40% attend church “monthly to yearly.”

Among the topics of the survey was a 2019 Department of Health and Human Services conscience rule to allow health care workers to opt-out of participating in abortion, purported sex-reassignment procedures, assisted suicide, or other procedures that might violate their conscience for religious or moral reasons.

On this point, Catholic voters sided with those who have religious or moral objections. Only 30% of survey respondents said health care workers should be obligated to engage in procedures to which they have religious or moral objections, while 58% did not.

Professed support for religious freedom appeared strong. About 82% of respondents said they were more likely to support a political candidate whose position was to “support the religious freedom of people of faith,” and 48% were much more likely.

At the same time, there appeared to be some inconsistencies. Catholic ethics opposes contraception, and Catholic leaders have been outspoken against mandates that Catholic organizations provide contraception in health insurance plants.

However, about 46% of the self-described Catholic likely voters said they were more likely to support a political candidate who supports “mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance coverage for contraception to their employees.” Only 37% said they were less likely.


If the drug mandates are linked to abortion, respondents were less likely to support them. About 48% said they were less likely to back a candidate who supports “mandating that Catholic organizations provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs to their employees,” while 33% said they were more likely.

Mary FioRito, a Catholic commentator and Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said the survey results indicate “that voters realize that there are very strenuous efforts, in some cases, to force Catholic health care institutions, and to force Catholic people more generally, to engage in behavior that directly violates their consciences.”

For FioRito, the results suggest that the survey is “largely talking to people who are not well catechized.” She told CNA that adherence to Catholic teaching is “very much” tied to religious practice.

“You're likely to have a conscience that is much more formed by what the Church teaches, and you're actually also much more likely to be able to articulate what the Church teaches,” she said.

She suggested that regular Massgoers would be much more likely be aware of the U.S. bishops’ pro-religious freedom initiatives which have aimed to help Catholics understand their right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.

The bishops have also sought to explain “the very real and aggressive threats to our right to free exercise that have been proposed by not only this administration, but by others before it.”

“I think the bishops have done a terrific job educating Catholics who practice their faith regularly and making them aware of the victories that we've had, also the continuing threats,” she said. 

“It’s very important for Catholics to be unified in our very swift and decisive responses to these kind of things,” FioRito continued. “Once you open the door and allow discrimination based on a person’s religion, it tends to have a domino effect, not only to other religious freedoms held by Catholics, but then by our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters and our Muslim brothers and sisters and also our Jewish brothers and sisters.” 

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One way to bridge the gap with Catholics who are less consistent or aware about religious freedom efforts are through “kitchen table” or “over the backyard fence” conversations, some of which are now taking place on social media, FioRito suggested.


“But the way is, first of all, to understand what you're talking about yourself, and then secondly, to be able to explain why it is that it’s so important to be able to protect religious liberty.”

In her case, FioRito links conversations on the topic to her parents’ upbringing in Scotland, where Christmas was not a legal holiday until 1958. It was considered a “papist” holiday. Her parents’ memories of Christmas morning are about their fathers getting up for work because it was a regular workday.

“I had a very personal appreciation of what it means to be an American and to be able to live out your faith in the public square,” she said.

“Sometimes people don't even think about the many ways that involve our freedom to practice our religion,” she said. She invoked the examples of a Catholic post office employee being allowed to wear ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesday, or a Sikh police officer being allowed to wear his headwear on the job.

She discussed the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which involved a public high school football coach who prayed on the field after games. The court decided that the government may not suppress an individual from engaging in personal religious observance, but some have misrepresented it as a decision that would force public school children to read the Bible, FioRito said.

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“You have to be an informed person and say ‘that is simply absurd’. The facts of this case are totally different, and it didn't involve any kind of coercion for someone to pray.” 

FioRito encouraged conversations that make a Catholic case with “facts, reason and compassion for everyone in our community who wishes to practice their faith openly and freely.”

“It’s really important to understand, and to make people know in a friendly but educated way, that this is why this is important,” she said. “This could really restrict things that affect you right now, like your ability to not have to go to work on Christmas Day. That's a very ingrained holiday here in the United States, but that doesn't mean it always has to be, either.”