Half of Americans worry about their own religious freedom

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 12:40 p.m. MST

"So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity," Obama said. "Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

In the context of what Obama said seven years ago, Walsh explained, it's understandable why someone might say that Judeo-Christian values should be given precedence generally.

"But if someone asks me if government should (give my religious values precedence over others) I say, "That’s not (government's) job,'" Walsh said. "But it is the job of everyone to advocate what is good based on their moral background."

Education initiative

The Barna survey also probed understanding of religious liberty, finding strong agreement among people of all faiths, including atheists and agnostics, that it "means all citizens must have freedom of conscience, which means being able to believe and practice the core commitments and values of your faith."

Conflicts over religious freedom have become increasingly prominent in the United States and in other areas of the world. On the national front, the contraception mandate promoted under the Affordable Care Act has become the leading issue on religious freedom as at least 44 religious organizations or businesses with devout owners have sued the government claiming compliance to the mandate would violate their right to practice their religious beliefs.

The conflict is also playing out on the state level over issues such as same-sex marriage, education and property rights.

On the world stage, Egypt is divided over the expanded influence of Islam in the government and its newly adopted constitution. In Europe, the continent's Court of Human Rights ruled earlier this month on four cases involving religious expression in the workplace, finding that religious freedom is not an absolute right.

"Religious freedom is, in effect, not regarded as important as stopping certain other forms of discrimination," the court ruled in two cases involving employees who refused to provide services to gay clients because it violated the workers' religious beliefs.

The Barna survey found that the demographic least concerned about religious liberty in America was so-called Millennials — adults born after 1984 — with only about one-fifth saying they were very concerned that religious freedom restrictions will grow in the next five years. One-quarter of Millennials said the state of religious freedom has grown worse in the past decade, compared to 33 percent of all adults in the survey.

"Organizations have to come to realize that enrolling younger Christians on these issues will require a different set of arguments and strategies than has been effective in the past," Kinnaman said. "For Millennials, the most religiously diverse generation in U.S. history, it is critical to answer why religious liberty matters and how it ought to work in a pluralistic society."

Walsh said that result is consistent with what he has found. He said younger Americans have historically been less aware of their religious freedom, primarily because it hasn't been emphasized in their education.

But Walsh is optimistic this current generation will better "grasp religious freedom when it is explained to them" because they are more likely to come from backgrounds of minority faiths that could face discrimination.

Walsh said his organization is working on an initiative with various faith communities to come up with a curriculum that explains religious freedom and the role of religion in society.

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