Bishop Liam Cary (L), of the Diocese of Baker and Bishop George Sheltz of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston read prayers at the start of an afternoon session during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Annual Spring Assembly in Atlanta, Georgia June 13, 2012.
Tonight, the U.S. Catholic bishops will launch the “Fortnight for Freedom,” a response to what theyclaim are encroachments by the Obama administration on their religious liberty , the most well-known of which is a mandate which requires all employers (including religiously affiliated organizations) to provide birth control to their employees at no cost through their insurance plans.
Over the next two weeks, there will be events at dioceses and parishes throughout the country. The event will culminate with a July 4 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Given the recent abundance of competing rhetoric about how the general public perceives religious liberty, and whether the public—and particularly rank and file Catholics—believe that religious liberty is threatened today, the following “Fortnight of Facts” covering the current state of public opinion about religious liberty can provide some context for understanding these debates.
• A majority of Catholics overall (57 percent), like the general public, do not believe the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today. White Catholics are more evenly divided on the issue, with 49 percent saying the right of religious liberty is being threatened, and 47 percent saying it is not being threatened.
• Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) Americans agree that America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular.
• White evangelical Protestants (61 percent) are the only major religious group among whom a majority believe religious liberty is threatened in America today.
• Majorities of Catholics, minority Protestants, white mainline Protestants, and the unaffiliated do not believe that religious liberty is being threatened in America today.
• When Americans who believe that religious liberty is being threatened today were asked to explain in their own words how religious liberty is being threatened, only 6 percent mention the recent debate around the contraception coverage mandate.
• Americans who believe religious liberty is being threatened today are most likely to cite issues such as removing religion from the public square or general public hostility toward religion as examples.
• Catholics overall are generally supportive of the contraception coverage requirements. Majorities of Catholics say that publicly held corporations, religiously affiliated social service agencies, colleges, hospitals, and privately owned small businesses should be required to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception at no cost.
• White Catholics make few distinctions between churches and other religiously affiliated employers. Slim majorities of white Catholics say these organizations should not be required to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception at no cost.
• With the exception of publicly held corporations, less than half of Americans who attend religious services at least once a week believe that religiously affiliated employers should be required to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception at no cost.
• In contrast to stereotypes that the debates over same-sex marriage are between religious and secular Americans, there are religious groups on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Majorities of Jews, Catholics, and white mainline Protestants support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, while a majority of white evangelical Protestants oppose this. African American Protestants are more divided.
• Religious liberty concerns are active among a subset of those who oppose same-sex marriage. Approximately 1-in-10 Americans who oppose same-sex marriage say they would support it if the law guaranteed that no church or congregation would be forced to perform same-sex marriages.
• More than 6-in-10 (63 percent) Americans say that religiously affiliated adoption agencies that receive federal funding should not be able to refuse to place children with qualified gay and lesbian couples.
• A majority of Catholics overall say that religiously affiliated agencies should not be able to refuse to place children with qualified gay and lesbian couples, regardless of whether they receive federal funding. White Catholics draw sharper distinctions between the responsibilities of religiously affiliated agencies that receive federal funding and those who do not.
• Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that we must maintain a strict separation of church and state.
To read more about PRRI research on American’s attitudes about religious liberty, check out the following resources:
• Our fact sheet
on Catholics and New Battle Lines Over Religious Liberty
• Our March 2012 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey