A majority of white evangelical Americans support laws providing legal protections for gays, lesbians and transgenders so that they can’t be discriminated against for jobs, public accommodations and housing, newly released polling data shows.
As Democrats in Congress reintroduced the Equality Act on Wednesday, the Public Religion Research Institute released data Tuesday showing that majorities from every state favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
The data was taken from PRRI’s 2018 American Values Atlas, a research project in which over 54,000 Americans across 50 states were surveyed last year about a number of critical issues facing the country.
While 79 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents said that they favor legislation that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination, a majority of Republicans (56 percent) said they also favor such laws.
“While support among Democrats and independents has remained relatively constant, Republican support for these provisions has fallen five percentage points over the past few years, down from 61 percent in 2015,” a PRRI analysis of the data reads.
When broken down by religious affiliation, white evangelical Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses were the least likely to support LGBT nondiscrimination protections.
But even though white evangelicals are largely seen as theologically opposed to homosexuality and transgender identity, 54 percent of white evangelical Protestants surveyed said they support LGBT nondiscrimination protections.
Sizable majorities of white mainline Protestants (71 percent), black Protestants (65 percent), other non-white Protestants (61 percent), Hispanic Protestants (60 percent), and Orthodox Christians (59 percent) expressed support.
Among other religious groups, most also supported legal protections, including Muslims (60 percent), Mormons (70 percent) and Jews (80 percent).
The data released by PRRI did not include results for a question on whether or not respondents support religious exemptions for individuals and religious institutions who oppose the LGBT lifestyle over theological reasons.
A PRRI representative told The Christian Post that data on that type of question would not be released until March 26.
The survey comes as there has been much debate over the last several years when it comes to the intersection of religious freedom rights and LGBT discrimination laws. Several business owners have faced lengthy court battles and punishments because they refused to provide services for same-sex weddings in order to uphold their religious convictions.
Evangelical leaders have long called for religious freedom exemptions for Christian institutions and business owners that hold a traditional Christian belief on sexuality and gender.
“All Americans should be treated with dignity and respect and our laws should protect the freedoms of speech, religion and conscience of every citizen, no matter who they are,” Greg Baylor, a senior counsel with the conservative Christian legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom and director of its Center for Religious Schools, said in a statement provided to CP.
“Unfortunately, the polling presented by PRRI fails to accurately portray the views of conservative evangelicals and fails to reveal the implications of so-called ‘nondiscrimination’ laws.”
In 2017, PRRI’s American Values Atlas found that 53 percent of white evangelical protestants supported allowing business owners to refuse service based on religious beliefs. White evangelicals joined believers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in being the only religious groups to have a majority supporting a business owner’s right to refuse based on religious belief in that survey.
Also in 2017, LifeWay Research found through a survey of over 1,000 Americans that when issues of sexual freedom rights and religious freedom come under conflict, about 90 percent of white evangelicals believe religious freedom is more important. In total, 68 percent of Protestants and 48 percent of Americans said the same.
A Marist poll commissioned by the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus that was released in early 2017 found that 60 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of moderates support protecting religious freedom even it goes against laws and ordinances.
In his statement to CP, Baylor noted that a recent poll conducted by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation found that “a majority of Americans do not support forcing transgender ideology on others, including parents, doctors, nurses, business owners, charities, and women.”
PRRI released its data on American’s views of nondiscrimination policies the day before Democrat lawmakers reintroduced the Equality Act in the House and Senate. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi previously vowed to pass the Equality Act in the Democrat-controlled House.
The legislation would ensure federal civil rights protections for members of the LGBT community. Although LGBT rights groups have praised the legislation, critics say that the bill does not include exemptions for religious objectors.
According to Andrew Walker, senior fellow in Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Equality Act “represents the most invasive threat to religious liberty ever proposed in America.”
“Given that it touches areas of education, public accommodation, employment, and federal funding, were it to pass, its sweeping effects on religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of conscience would be both historic and also chilling,” Walker wrote in an op-ed posted by The Gospel Coalition.
“Its passage would sound the death knell for hopes of détente in the culture wars that pit conservative Christians against their LGBT neighbors. For progressives, it would be winner-takes-all. Virtually no area of American life would emerge unscathed from the Equality Act’s reach. No less significant would be the long-term effects of how the law would shape the moral imagination of future generations.”
While Walker’s argument may sound a bit exaggerated to some, Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Kentucky, tweeted that Walker is not engaging in “alarmism.” Burk called Walker’s claim that the Equality Act represents the “most invasive threat” to religious freedom “a fact.”
Baylor told CP that the more Americans learn about “coercive” pieces of legislation like the Equality Act, the more they will see them as “threats to the fairness and freedom for all Americans.”
Last year, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities gave their public support to a legislative proposal called the “Fairness for All” compromise.
In theory, the compromise would see the enshrinement of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under civil rights law in exchange for religious exemptions for traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality.
Although some evangelical leaders have spoken out against “Fairness for All,” others support the plan because “it puts down markers in an important conversation.”
“There is a risk to Fairness for All,” Shirley Mullen, vice chair of the board of directors for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, said in February. “[T]here is also a huge risk to not being in this dialogue. It's not just the risk of losing legal protection for our freedom of beliefs. It is also, I would say, losing that capacity to have the Christian community viewed as people who are respectful and who want to treat [with respect] human beings who differ from them in fundamental ways.
“The debate is not about the importance about the traditional view of marriage. The debate is about the best strategy for preserving this.”