Rasmussen has a new poll out today on the hot topic of religious liberty. Religious liberty is in the news because Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed a bill into law that essentially prohibits the government from “substantially burdening” a citizen’s exercise of religion unless there is a “compelling” government interest. Opponents of the bill charge that this will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians because Christians can deny services or products to them claiming religious freedom as a “cover.”
This is not a new law, it’s been around for 20 years as a federal law and it was signed by Democrat President Bill Clinton. Other states, twenty to be exact, have similar laws to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA. (Here’s a good piece to get you up to speed on RFRA, in case you haven’t been following the buzz.)
Needless to say, the messaging on both sides of the issue has led to some confusion among the electorate as is clearly seen in Rasmussen’s latest public opinion survey.
When asked: “A number of states have adopted or are considering laws that prohibit the government from forcing businesses to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds. Do you favor or oppose a law in your state that would allow businesses to refuse service to customers for religious reasons?” 53% of voters oppose such a law.
And then we have this:
When asked: “Suppose a Christian wedding photographer has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. If asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, should that wedding photographer have the right to say no?” 70% agree.
So, to recap, 53% oppose the RFRA law and 70% agree that a Christian should have to the right to refuse a service that violates his religious beliefs.
It’s possible that voters think people should have a “right,” but they don’t like the idea of a “law.” I’m not sure. One thing I suspect is that there has been such a media campaign against the RFRA that people don’t really understand the purpose of the law. They’ve been told the law is bad by the media. You can see this because there is a visceral negative reaction to the abstraction (the law) but then overwhelming support for the instantiation (the actual situation).
The issue of media bias is recognized by the electorate, as 51% say gay rights groups and the media make the laws sound more discriminatory than they really are. And still, we have that figure of 53% who oppose RFRA by people who acknowledge they are being misled.
The national telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted by Rasmussen Reports on March 30-31, 2015. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.