Americans, religious liberty and discrimination: a look beyond the numbers

Americans, religious liberty and discrimination: a look beyond the numbers

Credit: Unsplash.
Credit: Unsplash.

.- More Americans are siding against the religious freedom of employers when it may conflict with a “nondiscrimination” policy like access to birth control coverage, new Pew Research numbers show.

However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story, because the Pew questions are too “general” and omit the specific consequences of the government forcing employers to violate their religious beliefs, Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA.

“The questions themselves don’t inform the interviewee of the most important thing that usually changes peoples’ opinions clearly in the favor of religious freedom, and that is that the government is pursuing these mandates with severe penalties, financially crippling fines, plus also potential jail time, simply for exercising your fundamental religious freedom,” he said.

He added that the omission of these factors in the wording of the Pew questions was a “huge oversight on their part.”

New Pew Research numbers released Wednesday show that two-thirds of Americans believe “employers with a religious objection to the use of birth control” should still have to provide for it in their employee health plans.

And young people especially think that way. Overall, three-quarters of those under age 30 said employers should have to provide contraception coverage, whereas fewer seniors age 65 and older (59 percent) said that.

“The survey of more than 4,500 U.S. adults explores recent controversies that have pitted claims of religious liberty and traditional morality against civil rights and nondiscrimination policies,” Pew explained.

Some of the most prominent examples of these conflicts include the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, where employers like the craft chain Hobby Lobby and religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor refused to comply with the mandate and/or its so-called “accommodation” offered to non-profits.

Because they religiously object to cooperating with contraception use, the Little Sisters say that to provide employees with contraceptive coverage – unless the coverage comes through a separate health plan, facilitated completely independent of the sisters – would be an immoral cooperation with an act they consider wrong. Hobby Lobby, meanwhile, challenged the mandate in court and in 2014 won at the Supreme Court, which decided that as a “closely-held for-profit corporation” owned by a Christian family, Hobby Lobby was exempt from the mandate’s requirements.

On other questions where religious liberty seemingly conflicts with anti-discrimination protections, Americans were more divided according to the Pew numbers, but a majority still favored the “nondiscrimination” position over the religious liberty position.

For instance, 51 percent said that persons identifying as transgender should have access to the public restroom of the gender of their choice. This scenario is most notably being played out in North Carolina where a state law requires all persons to use the public restroom of the gender of their birth, not of the gender currently they identify with.

Meanwhile, 49 percent of respondents said that businesses which serve weddings must offer their creative services to same-sex weddings regardless of the religious beliefs of the owners, whereas 48 percent said they should be “able to refuse” service.

The most prominent scenario of this case might be Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist who was sued for declining to make flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her religious beliefs. Her case will go before the state’s Supreme Court.

Despite their wording, the questions of transgender access to restrooms and businesses serving same-sex weddings reveal a sharp division of the American public, and should not be decided in one heavy-handed way by the government, Tedesco said.

“You see that these issues are issues that reasonable people take different positions on,” he said. “Reasonable people can come to reasonable disputes about marriage, whether marriage should be between a man and a woman, or be expanded.”

Thus, government shouldn’t force Americans to violate their religious beliefs, he continued. “We don’t live in a society where the government takes a position on these kinds of crucial issues to society and then forces everybody to agree with the government. That is as un-American, as un-Constitutional, as contrary to the First Amendment as anything I can think of.”

However, Tedesco admitted that public opinion is shifting against religious freedom, which is a “sad” and dangerous shift.

“There’s no question that even as a general, societal matter, that I think religious freedom is less popular, is less appreciated today than it has been in the past, and that’s a very sad circumstance because America was founded for religious freedom to escape religious persecution,” he said, “and now, what, are we going to turn back the clock on that?”

Catholics responded similarly to the rest of the country on the questions, although weekly Mass-going Catholics answered differently than Catholics who attend Mass less frequently.

Catholics overall voted with the rest of the country on the contraception mandate question. Sixty-five percent said employers should be required to include contraception coverage for employees regardless of their own religious beliefs, where just 32 percent said they should be “able to refuse” coverage.

“While Catholics who attend Mass weekly are split in their views on this question, most Catholics (72%) who attend Mass less often think contraception coverage should be required,” Pew stated. Fifty percent of weekly Mass-attending Catholics said employers should have to provide the contraception.

On the other questions, Catholics were split much more evenly, however.

Fifty-one percent of weekly Mass-attending Catholics said businesses should be allowed to decline to cater to a same-sex wedding, while 59 percent of other Catholics said they should be required to do so.

Sixty percent of weekly Mass-attending Catholics said that transgender persons should use the bathroom of their birth gender, while 51 percent of other Catholics said they should be allowed to use the public restroom of the gender they currently identify with.

Despite what the rest of the country – and even many of their fellow believers – think, “people need to not become discouraged by their perception that Christians and Christian beliefs are apparently moving into a minority,” Tedesco insisted.

“The First Amendment exists more than anything to protect dissidents, minority expression, from suppression by the majority,” he stated. “And we have the greatest claim to the protections and promise of the First Amendment if it truly is the case that we’re in the minority.”

“And the thing we have to do is assert our rights and protect our rights and continue to carve out a free space where we can live, in a way that’s consistent with what God calls us to do,” he stated.

Tags: Religious freedom, Catholic News

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