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Despite culture wars, most Americans support religious freedom

Monday, December 2, 2019, 20:21 (IST)

While religiosity in the US may be in decline, support for religious freedom is not waning, new research has found.

After surveying 1,000 US adults, the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom said the findings suggested more Americans prefer a "hands-off government approach" and a "culture of accommodation" when it comes to freedom of belief and religion.

Eighty per cent of respondents expressed support for the freedom to practise religious beliefs in general, while three quarters (74%) supported the expression of religious practices in the workplace.

Even where a religious practice might impose on others or inconvenience them in some way, nearly two thirds (66%) expressed support for the freedom to practise those beliefs in daily life, including in the workplace.

And when it came to businesses or private organisations holding "views seen as discriminatory", a majority of respondents supported their freedom to operate without being penalised.

Over half (57%) said that businesses and private organisations "should be able to hold beliefs without the threat of being boycotted, harassed, or shutdown".

But the survey revealed a substantial gap in perspectives on this point between Democrat and Republican respondents, with nearly three quarters of Republicans (73%) supporting the right of business owners and private organisations to hold any view they want without the threat of losing their jobs or businesses, compared to only 45 per cent of Democrats who felt the same way.

However, when it came to the right of an individual person to hold any view they wanted without the threat of being harassed or silenced, total support across both demographics jumped to 68%, while for Democrats it rose to 61%. Republican support was virtually identical on both questions.

The study also found that young Americans were far more likely than older generations to support religious freedom, with 52% of Gen Z (those born from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s) agreeing that employees should have the freedom to practise their faith at work by wearing religious clothing or only working on certain days of the week, compared to only 34% of Baby Boomers who felt the same.

The Becket Fund said the findings show that public support for religious freedom "has survived the culture wars".

"Even after decades of religious freedom being pulled into the culture wars, Americans accept and support a broad interpretation of religious freedom," the organisation said.

"Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of the government penalising groups and individuals for living out their religious beliefs.

"Contrary to popular narratives of increased tribalism and polarisation, Americans support a culture of accommodation for minority faith practices."