By Bob Smietana
A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that the nation’s Christians face growing intolerance.
They also say American Christians complain too much.
Those are among the findings of a new study of views about religious liberty from Lifeway Research. Researchers surveyed 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and September 2015 and then compared the results.
Two-thirds (63 percent) say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from half (50 percent) in 2013.
A similar number (60 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline, up from just over half (54 percent) in 2013.
Forty-three percent say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated, up from 34 percent in 2013.
“More Americans worry the U.S. has a hostile environment for religious liberty,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Lifeway Research. “As this perception grows, some approve of it while others speak up against it.”
The more recent Lifeway Research survey found faith plays a key role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.
Two-thirds of Christians (64 percent) and those of other faiths (65 percent) say religious liberty is on the decline. Self-identified evangelicals (71 percent) and those who attend worship at least once a week (70 percent) are most likely to agree.
Catholics (56 percent) and non-evangelicals (55 percent) are more skeptical. So are Nones (46 percent).
“Christians are particularly sensitive to what they see as intolerance towards their faith,” said Stetzer. “But they share a common concern with people of other faiths—that religious liberty in general is declining. And this perception is growing rapidly.”
Age also played a role in how Americans view the state of religious liberty.
Less than half (42 percent) of those 18 to 24 say religious liberty is on the decline. By contrast, 6 in 10 (62 percent) of those over 25 see a decline.
Lifeway Research also found non-Christians are less convinced that Christians face intolerance.
Less than half of those from other faiths (43 percent) and Nones (48 percent) agree when asked if intolerance towards Christians has increased.
By contrast, most Christians (70 percent), self-identified evangelicals (82 percent) and Protestants (74 percent) see more intolerance. So do two-thirds (76 percent) of those who attend services once a week or more.
Researchers found some signs that Americans are tired of arguments over religious liberty. A sizable number of Americans believe Christians’ complaints about how they are treated are excessive.
- 38 percent of Christians
- 39 percent of Americans of other faiths
- 59 percent of Nones
- 53 percent of those who rarely or never attend worship
American Christians face a challenge, as the nation becomes more secular, said Stetzer. Calls for religious liberty may fall on increasingly deaf ears in the future.
“Most people now believe Christians are facing intolerance, however, a surprising large minority perceives Christians to be complainers,” said Stetzer. “Both of those facts will matter as Christians profess and contend for their beliefs without sounding false alarms around faux controversies. It won’t be easy to strike that balance.”
Bob is the former senior writer for Lifeway Research. In September 2018, he joined Religion News Service, where he currently serves as a national writer.
The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 14-28, 2015. The calling utilized Random Digit Dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity, and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.6 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are also made to a Lifeway Research telephone survey conducted Sept. 6-10, 2013.
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.