The 2022 Religious Freedom Index
Maintaining last year’s record score of 68, this year’s Index demonstrates that American support for religious freedom has held strong despite the political division and economic difficulties of 2022.
2022 Key Findings
As we transition into 2023, the Index shows that American support for religious freedom is at a crossroads: embracing pluralistic instincts or rejecting this nation’s exceptional nature. Despite the unique challenges posed to religious groups in 2022, American support for religious freedom remained strong – this year’s composite score of 68 ties last year’s as the highest ever. In the 21 Index questions, support and opposition waxed and waned in approximately equal measure. The most meaningful difference was an increase in support for religious pluralism, building off last year’s growth. But three points decreases in Religion and Policy and Religion in Society and broader demographic trends suggest advocates for religious freedom have work to do. The following themes prevailed in the results of this year’s Index:
- Americans embrace a diversity of faith: Support for the right to choose and practice the religion of your choice has never been higher.
- Rediscovering human dignity and civil rights: Broad unfamiliarity with constitutional protections opens the door for civic education.
- Finding consensus in protecting minorities: Americans are most protective of religious minorities, with a unified majority expressing the need to make room for lesser-known religious groups.
The Religious Freedom Index: Tracking American Opinion on First Amendment Freedoms
In its fourth year, the Religious Freedom Index gives a unique look into American public opinion on First Amendment freedoms. The Index’s focus on core religious liberty principles, contextualized with questions on some of the year’s most pressing social issues, provides a yearly cross-section of public sentiment on the intersection of law, religion, and culture. In a time of unprecedented change, the Religious Freedom Index can help inform discussions about religion’s role in America’s shifting cultural dynamics.
Launched in November 2019, Becket’s Religious Freedom Index: American Perspectives on the First Amendment was the first annual index to track public opinion across a complete spectrum of issues related to religious freedom and provide a holistic view of the public’s opinion on these issues. The questions asked in the Index measure American sentiment across six dimensions of religious freedom and contribute to an annual composite Index score on a scale from 0 to 100 where 0 indicates complete opposition to principles of religious freedom and 100 indicates complete support. The Association of Religion Data Archives hosts the data files and codebook for the Religious Freedom Index.
The Index surveys a nationally representative sample of 1000 adults each October. Research firm Heart and Mind Strategies conducts the survey and scale construction, using an online sample panel assembled by Dynata. Becket contributes its broad expertise representing people of all faiths in religious liberty cases to ensure that the polling instrument and analysis broadly reflect America’s many religions and religious liberty issues.
Past Index Reports
With the Index reaching a new high, we see Americans bouncing back from an especially divisive year with newfound confidence in their support for a wide spectrum of religious freedom principles.
2021 Key Findings
The additional questions in the Index survey this year asked Americans about the role of religion in education, the place of religious speech in the public square, the relationship between government and faith-based organizations, and of course, the continuing implications for religious exercise of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the urgent problems of the previous year shift into new and unexpected trials this year, the Index results offer positive news both for the current state of American freedom and for its future.
In this year’s results we find:
- Americans want a fair shake for faith-based organizations:
Americans value faith-based organizations and want the government to partner with them on fair and equal terms.
- Americans value religious voices in national conversation:
Even in heated national debates, Americans want faith-based opinions and worldviews to be heard.
- Agreeing on the essentials, Americans prioritize protecting houses of worship in a pandemic:
Americans continue to value religion during the pandemic, with most saying houses of worship provide essential services
Read the full report here.
In this year’s Index we find Americans steadfast in their support for religious freedom principles and drawing on their religious identity to face the year’s challenges and inform their approaches to opportunities for change that lie ahead.
Access the full report, one-pager, data explorer and full data files at the links below.
2020 Key Findings
A year full of uncertainty sets the stage for the second annual Religious Freedom Index. Although the questions constituting the Index stay the same—providing a consistent year-by-year picture of American perspectives on religion, culture, and the law—this year’s report also includes new questions on how religion and religious freedom relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice, and the 2020 election.
Across dimensions, three themes emerge in this year’s Index:
- Americans weather storms anchored by faith:
Americans are anchored in their opinions on religious freedom, just as religion sustains them through difficult times.
- Religious identity cannot be quarantined:
Religion is part of who Americans are, not just something they do. Respondents support protections that reflect the reality of religious identity.
- Leadership gaps in defending racial justice and religious freedom:
In two areas–religious communities advocating for racial justice and elected officials prioritizing religious freedom–the Index reveals a significant leadership gap.
Read the full report here.
The central finding from this first year’s Index is that religious freedom has survived the culture wars.
Access the full report, one-pager, data explorer and full data files at the links below. The full data files and codebook for the 2019 survey are housed online by the Association of Religion Data Archives.
2019 Key Findings
In 2019, the majority of Americans accept and support religious freedom as a fundamental right as indicated by the Index score of 67. Although that fact may not come as a surprise, the Index clearly shows that Americans support a much broader array of religious freedom principles than current news cycles might suggest. The majorities seen in most of the dimensions are too strong to categorize as the domain of one political party, age group, or education level. Rather, each dimension shows support that crosses political aisles, generation gaps, and educational experiences.
Across dimensions three themes emerge in the Index’s first year:
- Consensus in a Polarized Society: Even after decades of religious freedom being pulled into the culture wars, Americans accept and support a broad interpretation of religious freedom.
- Preference for a Hands-off Government Approach: Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of the government penalizing groups and individuals for living out their religious beliefs.
- Support for a Culture of Accommodation: Contrary to popular narratives of increased tribalism and polarization, Americans support a culture of accommodation for minority faith practices.
The Religious Freedom Index includes data gathered in an annual online poll of a nationally representative sample of American adults (n=1,000) conducted by independent research company, Heart+Mind Strategies. The poll includes 21 questions that contribute to the Index and will be asked with the same phrasing every year. The poll also includes additional questions that are not calculated in any of the Index dimensions and will change from year-to-year based on current events. The polling is scheduled to take place each year between mid-September and mid-October.
After this year’s results were gathered, Heart+Mind Strategies constructed the Index and dimensions via factor, path and conceptual analysis including second-factor modeling. Each dimension is calculated by using and scoring individual responses to questions included in each dimension. Within each dimension, the scores on individual responses are used to calculate a summated score for that dimension and re-scaled from 0 to 100. The average of all six of the dimension scores is then used to create the final Index indicator.
The six individual dimensions and overall Index use a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 indicates complete opposition for the principle of religious freedom at issue and 100 indicates complete support for the same principle.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty did not participate in the gathering or coding of responses, or in the scale construction. Rather, Becket contributed its broad expertise representing people of all faiths in religious liberty cases to ensure that the polling instrument broadly reflected America’s many diverse religions and the full spectrum of religious liberty issues. Becket produces the final report, disseminates the findings, and engages the public in discussions on the Index and religious freedom.
For full details see the Methodology tab.