New Poll Shows Majority Of Americans Oppose Discrimination In The Name Of Religion

The confirmation hearing for federal Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, got under way yesterday, with some senators mentioning religious freedom during their opening remarks.

Gorsuch will start taking questions today, and the issue is likely to resurface again. It will be interesting to hear what Gorsuch has to say. In AU’s view, some of his opinions on religious freedom are troubling, and that’s why we’re opposed to his nomination.

As Gorsuch and the senators hash this out, Americans are increasingly gravitating toward a view of religious freedom that rejects the notion that this principle can be used to discriminate against others or cause them harm.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) recently issued a poll on a number of issues relating to religious liberty. My colleague Rokia Hassanein wrote last week about the survey’s perplexing findings that a majority of white evangelical Christians think they face more discrimination than American Muslims, but I get to share some happier news: 64 percent of respondents oppose allowing the owners of small businesses to be able to cite religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against LGBTQ people.

An even larger majority – 70 percent – said LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. Let’s hope Trump takes note of that, given his draft executive order that leaked in January that proposed rolling back protections for LGBTQ people and others.

AU agrees that religious freedom guarantees people the right to believe, or not, as their consciences dictate – but not at the expense of harming others. That’s why we’ve filed friend-of-the-court briefs in cases like State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig, arguing that First Amendment freedom of speech and religion protections don’t give business owners the right to discriminate.

A majority of Americans oppose small businesses using religion as an excuse to discriminate.

The PRRI study found a smaller majority of Americans – 53 percent – oppose laws that would prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. More than a dozen states are debating bills that would force transgender people to use public bathrooms that don’t align with their gender identity, including Texas, where the state Senate earlier this month approved a similar bill that is backed by the Family Research Council.

The Supreme Court this month sidestepped taking up its first transgender rights case, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., after Trump’s administration revoked Obama-era guidance that Title IX, a federal civil rights law, prohibited public schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity and required them to offer transgender students equal access to school amenities, including restrooms.

Since a federal appeals court had referenced the Obama-era guidance in its decision that Gloucester should allow transgender student Gavin Grimm to use boys restrooms in accordance with his gender identity, the Supreme Court kicked the case back to the lower court for reconsideration in light of the Trump administration’s change of course. Days earlier, AU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the high court in support of Grimm, arguing that religious or moral beliefs cannot dictate how government enforces the law, especially when those beliefs result in harm to others.

There were some unfortunate results to be found in PRRI’s survey. While a majority of overall respondents opposed businesses being allowed to cite religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate, white evangelical Christians bucked the trend: They were the only religious group in which a majority were in favor of permitting discrimination. A majority of Republicans also favored giving businesses the right to discriminate as well as preventing transgender people from using facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

But on balance, the poll is good news. And here’s more: AU will continue fighting against religious-based discrimination through our Protect Thy Neighbor project.