Americans overwhelmingly support right to practice religion, new survey says

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Support for Americans’ right to practice the religion of their choice rose dramatically this year, a new study by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty found.

Becket’s “2022 Religious Freedom Index,” released Dec. 7, showed a substantial increase in support for “religious pluralism” — the ability to choose and practice one’s religion without fear of persecution. 

“Support for the right to choose and practice the religion of your choice has never been higher,” Becket’s index reports.

A jump in support for religious pluralism

Becket’s index published the results of a 21-question online survey taken by Heart+Strategies this fall. The survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,004 American adults. 

Support for religious pluralism showed a marked increase from a score of 80 in 2021 to 84 in this year’s survey. A composite index score is based on the average answers to a range of questions, with 0 representing complete opposition to religious pluralism and 100 representing complete support. 

The score increased in five categories: ability to choose one’s religion, to pray or worship without fear, and to practice one’s religion in daily life each garnered over 90% support. The two other questions within the category, tolerance for varied ideas of God and the freedom to practice religious beliefs contrary to the majority, also had broad support, over 85%.

Across the board support for the freedom to worship

Support for religious pluralism bridges both religious and political divides. 

“Across generations, and categories that typically show wide variation, every group exceeded last year’s average score of 80,” Becket states. 

Becket found that young and old, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and religious and non-religious Americans expressed overwhelming support for religious pluralism. According to Becket, “there was no meaningful difference in support among people of faith and people of no faith.”

Other important findings:

  • Americans don’t know that the First Amendment protects the right to religious freedom. Less than half (47%) of the survey respondents knew that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. According to Becket, this ignorance gives religious freedom advocates “an opportunity to educate the broader public on key constitutional rights.”

  • Only 3% of Americans could correctly identify all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (speech, religion, assembly, press, petition). 

  • Americans’ opinion on religious people is at an all-time low, with a 50-50 split in viewing them as part of the problem versus part of the solution. 

  • The U.S. government’s treatment of religious communities contributed to a decrease in trust in the government among 26% of those surveyed, while it increased trust in the government in 9%. 

  • 59% of Americans believe the government should not force employers or medical workers to pay for or provide abortions against their consciences. Meanwhile, 41% of Americans believe the opposite. 

  • 54% of respondents believed that the government should not force businesses or medical workers to pay for or provide sex-change procedures, while 46% believed the opposite.

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