NASHVILLE (BP) — Americans believe firmly in religious freedom but think atheists are more welcome than Muslims in the United States, Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds.
More than 90 percent say people should be free to choose and practice religious beliefs. Nearly 7 in 10 call America a nation of many religions.
Yet Americans acknowledge the nation embraces Christians and Jews more heartily than atheists or Muslims. While 92 percent agree America is a welcoming place for Christians and 87 percent agree for Jews, the number drops to 67 percent for atheists. LifeWay released the study Wednesday (July 29), based on a survey taken last fall.
Muslims are the least welcome, in Americans’ estimation. Fifty-seven percent say America is a welcoming place for Muslims, and 35 percent believe it is not.
“Americans are deeply committed to religious liberty, but they can look at today’s culture and see America does not always welcome everyone,” Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president, said. “Welcoming people of all religions means being open to both immigrants of other faiths and citizens who choose to change their beliefs.”
In a phone survey of 1,000 Americans, LifeWay found nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) believe Americans have religious freedom. Almost all say Americans should be free to choose their religious beliefs (95 percent), worship with others who share their faith (95 percent), practice principles of their faith in everyday life (94 percent), build a house of worship (92 percent), and tell others about their religious beliefs (90 percent).
Americans are less certain whether owners should be free to run a business in accordance with their beliefs. Seventy-eight percent believe this aspect of religious freedom should be an American’s right. The rate falls to 64 percent among the nonreligious. The issue has been in the public eye recently as courts consider whether businesses can decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies or opt out of paying for employees’ birth control.
“Americans almost universally agree on what religious freedom means until it impacts other freedoms,” McConnell said. “Freedom to share one’s religious beliefs is a given, but some hesitate to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs.”
Most Americans see their country as a land of religious diversity. Small segments believe America is a Christian nation (19 percent) or a secular nation (9 percent). Both are dwarfed by the 69 percent who view America as a nation of many religions.
“Debate about whether America is a Christian nation will continue,” McConnell said. “Although most Americans are Christians, they understand a nation founded on principles of religious freedom will be a nation of many faiths.”
Belief that America is a Christian nation does not rise above 1 in 4, even among the groups most likely to hold that view – Southerners (25 percent), people 55-64 years old (25 percent), and evangelicals (24 percent).
Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of Americans indicate a Christian religious preference, according to Pew Research.