Religious liberty polling


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: religious freedom vs. anti-bias laws.  

Since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage five years ago, Christian photographers, bakers, florists, and calligraphers have waged legal battles over their right not to provide services for same-sex weddings.

NICK EICHER, HOST: This year, the Supreme Court heard one of those cases and came down firmly on the side of religious freedom: That was the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

A new poll finds growing public support for the plight of Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips. But also broad support for those who claim people like Phillips discriminate against them.

Why the discrepancy?

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg brings us this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The Public Religion Research Institute polled nearly 2,000 Americans on their views about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or SOGI Laws. These regulations make it illegal to fire someone, block them from housing, or keep them out of public places, like restaurants, because of their sexuality. But SOGI laws have also been used to target Christian business owners, like Jack Phillips, who don’t want to participate in same-sex weddings.

The study, released earlier this month, found 71 percent of Americans overwhelmingly support SOGI laws. That number hasn’t changed since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015.

Tom Jipping at the Heritage Foundation says Americans support SOGI laws because they believe it’s unfair to discriminate against someone because of their sexuality.

JIPPING: When people respond to pollsters about anti-discrimination laws, what they have in mind is people getting fired or not hired from a job because of their sexual orientation. And the large majority of people believe that’s unfair.

But the study found opinions are less settled when it comes to religiously based service refusals, especially in the context of wedding service providers.

Forty-six percent of respondents said business owners should be allowed to refuse services for same-sex weddings. Forty-eight percent say they should be required to provide them.

That’s a 5 point shift from just a year ago when 41 percent of Americans said business owners have the right to follow their religious convictions while 53 percent said they should be required.

Tom Jipping says attitudes have softened towards religious business owners and the predicament they face in the wake of legalized gay marriage.

JIPPING: Just like people have a sense that sort of arbitrarily denying someone a job because of their sexual orientation would be unfair. Uh, they also have a, just a basic common-sense feeling that a religious person should not be forced to provide a product for a same-sex wedding that might violate their religious beliefs.

Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, represented Jack Phillips at the Supreme Court. She believes his case played a significant role in that shift.

WAGGONER: It’s been important in Jack’s case for the American people to get to know Jack… Jack shows that it’s not about the person. It is about the message. He serves everyone that comes in his shop and I think that’s been important to ensure that the American public understands that. And I think that’s reflected in the difference in the poll numbers.

Waggoner says more Americans are making an important distinction between discrimination against a person and following a sincerely held religious belief.   

WAGGONER:  I think what they’re recognizing is that people like Jack and in all the cases that are pending, all of those clients serve everyone. They just don’t express all messages and they don’t celebrate all events. And that’s been true, um, you know, before and after the current marriage debate.

But Jack Phillips’ battle isn’t over. Just two months after winning his case at the Supreme Court, Phillips is faced with defending himself again—this time against a transgender activist who wanted him to create a gender transition cake. Last week, Phillips filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general arguing state-sanctioned bullying.

Heritage Foundation’s Tom Jipping says clashes between religious freedom and SOGI laws will continue until the government prioritizes the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution over state-legislated SOGI laws.

JIPPING: This is a conflict between a fundamental constitutional right and a right that is granted by legislation, by a state legislature, because it’s a policy issue. Constitution trumps legislation.

In the meantime, Kristen Waggoner says she hopes Jack Phillips’ legal battle will succeed in protecting all Americans’ right to follow their conscience.

WAGGONER: The same precedent that supports someone like Jack who believes that marriage is between man and a woman also protects the lesbian graphic designer from having to design a project that violates her belief. So this has to go both ways.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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