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Voters Stand Up for Religious Leaders Defending Their Faith

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Houston’s lesbian Mayor Annise Parker recently subpoenaed sermons, speeches and private communications by pastors in the city opposed to a proposed gay rights ordinance. This has prompted an angry response from advocates of religious freedom nationwide, and voters strongly agree that religious leaders standing up for the beliefs of their faith should not be subject to prosecution.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 77% of Likely U.S. Voters do not believe the government should be allowed to prosecute religious leaders for comments that criticize government and social policies that violate the basic beliefs of their religion. Just 14% think the government should be able to prosecute religious leaders on these grounds. (To see question wording, click here.)

Twenty-four percent (24%) say it is a hate crime when religious leaders criticize social policies such as gay marriage that violate the batsic beliefs of their religion. But 63% disagree and say it is not a hate crime when religious leaders stand up for the tenets of their faith. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided.

Voters are more narrowly divided, however, when it comes to the nexus of politics and religion. Thirty-four percent (34%) believe religious leaders are engaging in politics when they criticize government policies that violate the basic beliefs of their religion. Slightly more (40%) say criticism by religious leaders of policies that violate their faith is not politics. Twenty-six percent (26%) are not sure.

Voters remain evenly divided when asked about the influence religious leaders have on government policy. Thirty-one percent (31%) say they have too much influence, while 30% say they don’t have enough influence. Another 30% think their level of influence on policy is about right. These attitudes haven’t changed since we first asked this question five years ago.

Seventy-eight percent (78%) say their religious faith is important in their daily life, with 52% who say it is Very Important. Only 19% say faith is not very or Not At All Important to them. This is also comparable to attitudes in past surveys

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on October 17-18, 2014 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology

Eighty percent (80%) of voters view the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion as Very Important, but 54% see the government as a threat rather than a protector of their rights.

Most voters across the partisan spectrum think the government should not be allowed to prosecute religious leaders for comments that criticize government and social policies that violate their basic religious beliefs. But Democrats don’t believe that nearly as strongly as Republicans and voters not affiliated with either major political party do.

Seventy-seven percent (77%) of GOP voters and 67% of unaffiliateds say it is not a hate crime when religious leaders criticize social policies such as gay marriage that violate the basic beliefs of their religion. Democrats agree but by a much narrower 46% to 35% margin.

Just over half (52%) of Republicans think religious leaders do not have enough influence over government policy, but a plurality (47%) of Democrats believes they have too much influence. Unaffiliated voters are more evenly divided.

Voters who rate their religious faith as Very Important to their daily life are much more likely to think religious leaders do not have enough influence on government policy.

The Political Class is almost evenly divided over whether it’s a hate crime when religious leaders criticize social policies that run contrary to their faith. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Mainstream voters say that is not a hate crime.

Eighty-two percent (82%) of Americans think it is more important to give people the right to free speech than it is to make sure no one is offended by what others say. Sixty-nine percent (69%) believe it is better to allow free speech without government interference than it is to let government decide what types of hate speech should be banned.

Earlier this years, voters nationwide strongly opposed a law in their state like one in Arizona that would allow businesses to refuse service to customers for religious reasons. Critics claimed the law opened the door to widespread anti-gay discrimination, and it was ultimately vetoed by the governor.

Interestingly, however, 73% also said a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage should have the right to say no if asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony. Such refusal is currently prohibited by law. Fifty-one percent (51%) continue to think that rulings by judges in recent years regarding religion in public life have been more anti-religious than the Founding Fathers intended.

Voters remain closely divided over gay marriage. Forty-seven percent (47%) now favor it, while 42% are opposed.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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