By Marissa Postell
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While most Americans say religious liberty is on the decline in the country, even more believe Christians are increasingly confronted with intolerance in the U.S. But some say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated.
Over half of Americans (54%) say religious liberty is on the decline in America, including 24% who strongly agree, according to a Lifeway Research survey of 1,005 Americans in September 2021. Nearly 1 in 3 disagree (32%), and 14% aren’t sure.
Although a similar percentage of males (53%) and females (54%) agree religious liberty is on the decline, more females say they are not sure. Males (36%) are more likely than females (29%) to say religious liberty is not on the decline in America.
Religious affiliation, worship service attendance and religious beliefs are also factors in a person’s belief about the state of religious liberty. Americans who are more engaged with their faith are among those most likely to believe religious liberty is on the decline in America. Those who are religiously unaffiliated are least likely to agree that it is declining (40%). And among Christians, those who attend a worship service at least four times a month (64%) are more likely to believe religious liberty is on the decline in America than those who attend less than once a month (53%). Furthermore, those who hold evangelical beliefs are more likely to say religious liberty is declining than those without evangelical beliefs (74% v. 48%).
“Freedoms are not limitless,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “As some groups seek more freedom, it often encroaches on another’s freedom. It’s not surprising those who are more religiously active are the ones noticing reductions in religious freedom compared to those who don’t practice religion.”
Belief in declining tolerance for Christians in America
When asked specifically about how Christians are treated, Americans believe religious tolerance for Christians in America is declining. Over half of Americans (59%) say Christians are increasingly confronted with intolerance in America, including 24% who strongly agree. Fewer than 1 in 4 (24%) disagree, and 18% say they are not sure.
African Americans (68%) and white Americans (59%) are more likely to agree than people of other ethnicities (47%).
Those with more education are more likely to disagree. Americans with a bachelor’s degree (30%) or graduate degree (31%) are more likely to say Christians are not increasingly confronted with intolerance in America today than those who are high school graduates or less (21%) or with some college (20%).
“Intolerance is about cultural pushback,” McConnell said. “In the American marketplace of ideas, not all systems of thought are welcomed. The majority of all religions notice this pushback against Christians today.”
Again, religious affiliation, worship service attendance and religious beliefs are factors in a person’s beliefs regarding tolerance levels for Christians in America. Protestants are the most likely to agree that intolerance is increasing (69%), followed by Catholics (59%), people of other religions (53%) and the religiously unaffiliated (41%). Evangelicals (84%) are more likely to agree than non-evangelicals (52%). And among Christians, those who attend a worship service less than once a month (55%) are least likely to believe Christians are facing increasing levels of intolerance in America.
Too much complaining
More than 1 in 3 Americans (36%) say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated, including 14% who strongly agree. Nearly half (49%) disagree, and 15% aren’t sure.
“While people of faith have had real challenges to their religious liberty in recent years in the U.S., it’s easy to become known only for talking about these issues,” McConnell said. “It’s ironic that the very ones people of faith would like to convert are noticing what Christians say about what they’re losing rather than what good they have to offer.”
There are several demographic indicators of whether someone believes Christians complain too much about how they are treated. Males (40%) are more likely than females (32%) to agree. And those who are oldest or have the least education are most likely to say American Christians do not complain too much. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) of those over the age of 65 say American Christians do not complain too much. And those who are high school graduates or less (56%) are the most likely to say the same.
When it comes to religious beliefs and practices, the religiously unaffiliated, Christians who attend church some and non-evangelicals are among the most likely to say American Christians complain too much about how they are treated. Those who are religiously unaffiliated (53%) are more likely to agree than Catholics (34%) and Protestants (27%). Among Christians, those who attend a worship service one to three times a month (44%) are most likely to agree Christians complain too much. Those with evangelical beliefs (61%) are more likely to disagree than those without evangelical beliefs (45%).
Marissa Postell is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
The online survey of 1,005 Americans was conducted by Lifeway Research Sept. 3-14, 2021, using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,005 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.3%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Evangelical Beliefs are defined using the NAE Lifeway Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements are categorized as having Evangelical Beliefs.
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior
- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation
About Lifeway Research
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches. For more information, visit LifewayResearch.com.
About Lifeway Christian Resources
In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, Christian music and movies, Vacation Bible School and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway operates as a self-supporting nonprofit. For more information, visit Lifeway.com.