Religious freedom battles continue to take place in courtrooms around the country, but in the court of public opinion, religious liberty wins easily.

Fifty-four percent of respondents to a new Marist Poll survey, sponsored by Catholic News Agency, support or strongly support First Amendment religious liberty protections or exemptions for faith-based organizations and individuals, "even when it conflicts with government law."

Only 38 percent of respondents oppose or strongly oppose these protections. Support was strongest in the South, while opposition was strongest in the Northeast and Midwest. By age, Generation X respondents aged 33-48 were the strongest supporters, followed by Millennials aged 18-32.

Respondents over age 67 were the most likely oppose such protections.

About 55 percent of all Catholics, and 58 percent of practicing Catholics, support these protections. Support was strong among Republicans and unaffiliated voters, as well as among 46 percent of Democrats.

The survey comes at a time of increasing controversies over religious freedom.

Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to shut down in several states because they cannot place children with same-sex couples, while federal rules have mandated that Catholic employers provide health plan coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortions.

Those in the wedding industry, including owners of small bakeries, florists and photographers, have been sued because they could not in good conscience take part in a same-sex ceremony. Some have lost in court.

But while the law may not always be on the side of these conscientious objectors, most Americans are.

About 65 percent of Marist Poll respondents opposed or strongly opposed penalties or fines for individuals who refuse to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples "even if their refusal is based on their religious beliefs." Only 31 percent supported or strongly supported such penalties.

Opposition or strong opposition to such penalties was above 60 percent for all generations, with 71 percent of Baby Boomers opposed.

Most Americans also reject penalties for public officials with reservations about taking part in same-sex ceremonies.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents opposed or strongly opposed penalties or fines for public officials who refuse to perform same-sex "marriages" even if their refusal is based on religious beliefs. While Millennial generation respondents were significantly more likely to support penalties, still 49 percent of them opposed such action.

The survey did reveal a generation gap about children and parenting.

Respondents were asked their opinion on the view that it is best for children to have both a mother and a father rather than two parents of the same sex.

While 53 percent of all U.S. respondents supported or strongly supported this view, only 42 percent of Millennials did. Twenty-seven percent of this youngest generation opposed this view and 28 percent strongly opposed it.  

Sixty-nine percent of Republicans endorsed married opposite-sex parents as best, compared to 47 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats.

On the question of whether to teach details about homosexual behavior in sex education classes, respondents were closely divided, with 49 percent favoring and 47 percent opposing.

The Marist Poll surveyed 1,169 U.S. adults from Feb. 25-March 1. It claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It is run by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College at Poughkeepsie, New York.

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