Americans see religious liberty sliding while intolerance—and whining—rise

When Starbucks released new solid red holiday cups before Christmas last year, the design choice upset some people. (RNS photo courtesy of Starbucks)

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS)—Most adults in the United States say religious liberty is declining in America, and Christians face more intolerance than ever. But nearly four in 10 also say Christians “complain too much about how they are treated,” a new LifeWay Research survey reveals.

The Nashville-based researchers surveyed 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and again in September 2015. The 2015 survey was conducted a few weeks after Kentucky clerk Kim Davis served five days in jail and made international headlines for refusing to sign marriage licenses for gay couples.

Rel liberty on decline 450The survey found:

  • 63 percent of U.S. adults say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from 50 percent in 2013.
  • 60 percent say religious liberty is declining, up from 54 percent.
  • 43 percent say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated, up from 34 percent.

“The significant increase is worth attention,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. It is about the rights of faith-based institutions such as schools, colleges and charities to hire according to their faith, “not about a faux ‘War on Christmas,’” he explained.

Christians complain too much 300x270However, while Christian organizations are fighting for their liberties, “some Christians are whining about Starbucks’ red cups” that did not say “Merry Christmas” on the side, he added.

“There are real issues here, but Christians need to pick their battles like discerning adults, not complaining children,” said Stetzer.

The survey didn’t ask about  business owners’ rights, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse gay couples’ requests to rent a venue or purchase cakes or flowers for a wedding. The issues of employment and public accommodations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are being fought in several state legislatures.

And the Supreme Court is wrestling with a case in which faith-based groups refuse to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to allow their insurer to cover free contraception for employees.

LifeWay found 64 percent of Christians say religious liberty is on the decline, including:

  • 71 percent of self-identified evangelicals.
  • 70 percent of people who say they attend worship at least once a week.
  • 56 percent of Catholics.
  • 55 percent of other Protestants.

In addition, 65 percent of people of other faiths, including Jews, Muslims and other minority religions, agree. Stetzer noted even 46 percent of “nones”—people who claim no religious identity—also saw religious liberty declining.

Seven in 10 Christians—including 82 percent of evangelicals and 76 percent of people who say they attend church at least once a week—say they face increasing intolerance. However, only 43 percent of people of other faiths and 48 percent of religiously unaffiliated agree.

Those who say Christian complaints about treatment are “excessive” include:

  • 38 percent of Christians.
  • 39 percent of Americans of other faiths.
  • 59 percent of nones.
  • 53 percent of Americans—secular or religious—who rarely or never attend worship.

Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national reporter for RNS.

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