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Racism and other forms of bigotry live on as “religious freedom”

Racism and other forms of bigotry live on as “religious freedom”

Emma Green of The Atlantic writes:

In an interesting new survey, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 10 percent of Americans believe business owners should be able to refuse to serve black people if they see that as a violation of their religious beliefs.

This was pretty much the same across regions, too; the Northwest and the Midwest had slightly higher percentages than the South and the West. Gen X-ers, not old people, were most likely to agree—13 percent said they support the right to refuse. Men were slightly more likely to agree than women, and Catholics slightly more likely than Protestants. Hispanics were the biggest outlier by far: 18 percent agreed with the right to refuse service to blacks.

She adds:

It’s also telling that racial discrimination is being paraded as “religious freedom.” A similar explanation was argued in the recent controversy over an Arizona photographer’s refusal to take pictures at a gay wedding, and in this poll, a portion of respondents said it’s okay to refuse services to gays and lesbians. Sixteen percent agreed that this is acceptable, including 19 percent of men, 21 percent of Republicans, and 26 percent of white evangelicals. Gay marriage and culture are gaining acceptance in the United States, but it’s nowhere near “normal”—in a 2013 Pew poll, only 54 percent of respondents said they have a “favorable opinion” of gay men.

The PRRI survey also contains this information:

A majority (54%) of Americans believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. However, there is substantial disagreement on this question by political affiliation, age and religious affiliation.

Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say that religious liberty is being threatened (80% vs. 40%). A majority of Democrats (55%) say that religious liberty is not under threat in the U.S. Independents are more closely divided with 51% reporting that religious liberty is under threat, while 43% say it is not.

More than any other religious group, white evangelical Protestants believe that religious liberty is being threatened in the U.S. today. More than 8-in-10 (83%) white evangelical Protestants express this view, compared to 55% of Catholics and 53% of white mainline Protestants. Half (50%) of minority Protestants also perceive a threat to religious liberty in the U.S., but a substantial minority (42%) disagree. Less than one-third (31%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans believe religious liberty is being threatened, while twice as many (62%) say it is not.

More than 6-in-10 (61%) seniors (age 65+) believe that religious liberty is being threatened, while only roughly 4-in-10 (41%) young adults agree. Most (54%) younger Americans (ages 18-29) do not believe religious liberty is being threatened.

In what ways, if any, do you think religious freedom in under threat in the United States? In what ways is the concept of religious freedom being misused to cover personal prejudice?


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I think it’s inevitable that there will be controversies over “religious freedom” (what took it so long?).

When you look at a non-discrimination listing, religion is the only category (well, unless “political affiliation” is also listed) that is a matter one’s beliefs. One (for example) race doesn’t contradict another—but one set of beliefs contradict another set of beliefs All.The.Time.

As U.S. culture becomes more pluralistic (less of a Christendom), it’s inevitable that those contradictions will erupt in the public square (esp. when one set of beliefs is “all religious beliefs are wrong”).

There is no freedom to NOT have one’s beliefs contradicted—but I think it is these public contradictions which are the source of the “my religious freedoms are being violated!” claims.

JC Fisher

Rob Huttmeyer

IMHO this poll points to the lack of knowledge that many Americans have about their own history and government. If one goes back to Jefferson’s statement that the first amendment creates a wall of separation between the church and the state (pointing out that this is one opinion among many of the founders). Jefferson also clearly states in that same letter that “the power of the government reach[es] actions.” The examples given above are in regards to the actions of a person and therefore their actions are under the jurisdiction of governmental authority.

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