Survey Finds Many Americans “Lack Clear Understanding” of Religious Freedom

ICC Note: As religious freedoms continue to come under attack both domestically and internationally, many opinions arise on the issue of religious liberty.  The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention worked with LifeWay Research to conduct a survey on what Southern Baptists Pastors think of various religious freedom issues.  Perhaps most alarming was that “41 percent of those surveyed felt their community lacked a clear understanding of the religious freedom protections recognized by the First Amendment.”

By Andrew Walker

07/11/2014 United States (Faith Street) – Religious liberty is in the news a lot these days, but do people understand what it is and its place in American life? In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention partnered with LifeWay Research to commission a survey on how Southern Baptists, particularly pastors, are thinking about religious liberty.

The survey, which included 1,097 respondents from all regions of the United States and had a 2.9 percent margin of error, found that Southern Baptist pastors have a heightened awareness to religious liberty’s importance but are also aware of its potential dethroning in certain sectors of culture.

Approximately half of those surveyed “agreed” that people in their community clearly understand the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. Nineteen percent “strongly agreed,” while 32 percent “somewhat agreed.” It also indicated that upwards of 41 percent of those surveyed felt their community lacked a clear understanding of the religious freedom protections recognized by the First Amendment.

While it’s certainly encouraging from a glass-half-full perspective that over half of respondents said religious liberty was understood by their community, the other half indicates that religious liberty — because it is not understood — can easily be “defined down,” as Ross Douthat has put it. Indeed, lately the opponents of religious liberty express an understanding of religious liberty that views it in terms of “freedom to worship” inside one’s religious sanctuary. Rightly understood, however, “freedom of religion” entails the free expression of religious faith and practice in every dimension of one’s life.

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