Poll: Religious freedom increasingly threatened

(Centennial Fellow) Some 60% of Coloradans now feel their religious freedom is being threatened by the prevailing political and cultural forces in America over the past 20 years, according to a new survey done by the Centennial Institute.

These fears have intensified with recent events, including the federal government mandate for many religious organizations (who provide health insurance plans) to include contraception, abortion–inducing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees. Hobby Lobby, a Christian–based arts and crafts company, faces a daily $1.2 million fine for non–compliance with the same requirement. Labor unions have been disproportionately granted Obamacare waivers arousing concerns about fairness and religious freedom in the minds of the American public.

The survey also asked whether economic and political rights, religious freedom, or tolerance was the most important value to Coloradans. Over 57% of those surveyed said religious freedom was the most important value, followed by tolerance (25%) and economic/political freedom (17%.) The survey indicated that 66% of Americans identified themselves as Christian (Protestant or Catholic) while 16% identified as “other” , 15% of Americans have no religious preference, 2% were Muslims, and 1% were Jewish. Clearly, the issue of religious freedom is on most people’s minds today, irrespective of religious affiliation.

This is a surprising result given the current economic reality in the US where families with 2013 incomes in the top 20 percent of the nation will pay an average of 27.2 percent of their income in federal taxes, among the highest since 1979. In addition, total US debt has risen to over $16.5 trillion (up six trillion dollars in the past four years) while GDP growth has declined to approximately 2% annually. According to the Commerce Department, income tumbled 3.6 percent in January 2013, the largest drop since January 1993.

John Andrews, director of the Centennial Institute, stated, “The unemployment rate has not declined since President Obama took office in January 2009 when it was 7.6%. Today it is 7.9%. Economic growth and opportunity have been muted for the past several years, yet despite the economic travails that Americans find themselves in, survey respondents are more concerned about religious freedom than they are about economic and political rights.”

Survey results indicate that 44% of Coloradans believe that Islam is a religion of peace, consistent with other religion polling at the national level. The survey reveals that respondents are concerned about a perceived movement from freedom of religion to freedom of worship, where 56% of respondents believe this distinction, made by media and government officials, is an attempt to privatize religion and keep it out of the public square.

Christians should be concerned about these polling results as it reflects increasing concerns about religious freedom, America’s first freedom. The movement from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship” is an attempt to privatize religious expression and remove religion from the public square. As secular interests exert increasing control over the media, education, and government, the freedom of religious expression in the public square will be discouraged. This effort to privatize religious expression is a back–door effort to undermine the constitutional protections guaranteed by our founding fathers. History is replete with examples where strictures upon religious freedom ultimately get expressed through constraints on economic and political freedom.

Founder Benjamin Rush said “Without virtue, there can be no liberty.” Samuel Adams, widely recognized as the father of the American revolution, said “While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”

James Wilson, signer of the Constitution and U. S. Supreme Court Justice, said “Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine … far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.”

George Washington said “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

And Benjamin Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, summed it up: “[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

It is clear that our founders intended the celebration and protection of religious freedom. Religious freedom is inseperable from political and economic freedom. These freedoms represent a cord of three strands, not easily broken when accompanying each other.

It is also clear that religious freedom is under assault, like never before, by established interests in the media, education, and government spheres. Challenges to economic and political freedom will not be far behind. These polling results done by the Centennial Institute should mobilize those who understand the times in which we live. Religious freedom is a concern to Americans of all religious persuasions.

John Adams said “But a constitution of government once changed from freedom, can never be restored. liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” It is our individual responsibility to know and protect our constitutional rights.

The survey was conducted for the Centennial Institute by Smart Voice on January 28, 2013 using a statewide sample of 379 respondents who also subscribed to a landline phone.

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