Introducing the Religious Freedom Index
If we go by the media headlines, American culture today is characterized by deep division. Prevailing norms and ideas have shifted, in some cases drastically, and in many cases rapidly. Yet, the headlines and polls that testify to America’s cultural divide, attributing it to changing ideas, in some cases fail to provide a “big picture” sense of exactly how much those ideas have changed. When it comes to religious liberty, it has been nearly impossible to assess whether, or how, American opinion has changed. If America is becoming less religious, as some polls indicate, does that necessarily mean it is also becoming less supportive of religious liberty protections? Are we, in fact, divided on questions of religious freedom?
The Religious Freedom Index is designed to give a 30,000-foot view of changes in American attitudes on religious liberty by surveying a nationally representative sample of 1,000 American adults. Rather than focus on the most hot-button issues dominating the news-cycle, questions asked in the Index cover a wide spectrum of religious liberty protections under the First Amendment. The responses to these questions statistically group into six dimensions: 1) Religious Pluralism, 2) Religion and Policy, 3) Religious Sharing, 4) Religion in Society, 5) Church and State, and 6) Religion in Action. The composite Index score is the average score of these dimensions.
First Edition Results
With a current score of 67, the 2019 Index indicates strong support for religious freedom protections. Future results will reveal whether religious freedom will remain a unifying value at the core of American cultural identity, or shift to a partisan and controversial topic like so many others.
Within each dimension, we find a range of support for different aspects of religious freedom. Most dimensions reflect strong support but also show variations across different demographics.
Read the findings of our first edition.
Index Dimensions and 2019 Scores:
How do respondents view the basic rights to hold beliefs about God, adhere to a religion, and live out the basic tenets of that religion in their daily life?
When someone follows a religion, to what extent should they be free to share their religion and beliefs with others?
Religion and Policy
What is the proper place for religion when it intersects with law and policy? To what extent should the government be able to influence religious practices?
Religion in Action
How free are individuals to practice their beliefs beyond the walls of their homes or places of worship?
Religion in Society
How does religion contribute to a healthy society and how do people feel about the efforts of religion to make contributions within society?
Church and State
What are the boundaries of interactions between government and religion?
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.