Even with COVID-19’s diminishing role, the continued presence of political polarization, cultural change, and economic struggle made 2022 a challenging year for many Americans. The fourth edition of the Religious Freedom Index reveals how this unusual year impacted public opinion on religion and religious liberty nationwide.
The Index is designed to give a holistic view of American attitudes toward religious freedom by surveying a nationally representative sample of approximately 1,000 American adults each year. The survey consists of 21 annually repeating questions that cover a broad range of topics, from the rights of religious people to practice their respective faiths to the role of government in protecting and promoting religious beliefs. The responses to these questions break down 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 calculated by taking the average of these six dimensions, with a score of 0 representing complete opposition and a score of 100 representing robust support.
In addition to the 21 repeating Index questions, the survey contains additional questions that differ from year to year and ask Americans about timely or special topics. This year, the additional questions covered the role of religion in education, business, and healthcare; the perception of religion and religious people; First Amendment basics; religious freedom in prison; Native Americans’ religious freedom; and the benefits of faith.
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:
2022 Key Findings:
- 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.
Americans embrace diversity of faith
In recent years, Americans have worked to build a culture that recognizes and celebrates unique differences. This year’s results show that this culture of acceptance extends to religion and faith identities.
Building on last year’s three-point increase, this year saw the highest-ever support for Religious Pluralism. Total support and intense support (“complete and total acceptance”) reached record highs for each of the dimension’s five freedoms.
This year’s record score (84) is even more impressive considering that in 2020 support for Religious Pluralism dipped to 77 before rebounding to 80 in 2021. In the last two years, intense support for the five freedoms encompassed in Religious Pluralism rose between nine and 16 percent. Data for total support tells a similar story; support rose between five and nine percent for all five freedoms, with three of the freedoms above exceeding 90 percent.
There was no meaningful difference in support among people of faith and people of no faith, and Americans of all religions recognized the importance of religious pluralism for society. Religious pluralism bridged political and ideological differences too – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all expressed unwavering support. The same held true for conservatives, liberals, and moderates. Across generations, and categories that typically show wide variation, every group exceeded last year’s average score of 80.
Rediscovering human dignity and civil rights
As this year’s record-high Index composite score demonstrates, Americans favor the preservation of religious freedom as a basic civil right in all spheres of society, whether in education, business, or healthcare. But as a self-governing nation, it is important that Americans not only support religious freedom but also understand its roots in our Constitution and why it is a fundamental human right.
With that in mind, this year’s Index included an additional question that asked respondents to identify the five rights contained in the First Amendment. Americans showed a promising familiarity with free speech – 85 percent of Americans correctly identified it as protected by the First Amendment. But only 47 percent of Americans correctly identified religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment, suggesting that advocates for religious freedom have an opportunity to educate the broader public on key constitutional rights.
Despite this, Americans continue to value religious voices. When asked, a majority of Americans agreed that “religion is still a great benefit for society at large” and neither the government (73 percent) nor nonprofits (60 percent) could replace the “unique spiritual benefits” that religion provides.
Finding consensus in protecting minorities
Many of this year’s most encouraging findings are found in responses to the Index’s additional questions. As shown in past years, American society views religious freedom as an essential civil right, particularly prioritizing the protection of minority faiths.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans support protecting Native American sacred sites on federal land. Perhaps most notably, strong support for these protections (57 percent) exceeds strong opposition (three percent) by nearly 20 to 1.
The Index also asked respondents about allowing Native Americans to continue their longtime religious use of peyote, a psychedelic drug prohibited by federal law. Eighty-one percent of respondents supported protecting the Native American religious practice, with those who strongly support (45 percent) outnumbering those who strongly oppose (six percent) more than 7 to 1.
Across all measured demographic groups (including gender, age, generation, ethnicity, marital status, children in household, faith status, frequency of attendance at houses of worship, political party, or ideology), strong majorities supported Native Americans on both questions.
Other questions asking about the rights of business owners to act in accordance with their religious views found little to no variation in support, regardless of whether the owners were members of a majority religion (Christianity) or a minority one (Islam or Judaism). These questions confirm that most Americans see religious freedom as the inheritance of all Americans, not just Christians.
The Religious Freedom Index includes data gathered in an annual online poll in fall 2022 of a nationally representative sample of American adults (n=1,004) conducted by an independent research company, Heart+Mind Strategies. The poll includes 21 questions that contribute to the Index, asked with the same language and in the same order every year. The poll also has additional questions that are not calculated in any of the Index dimensions and change from year to year based on current events. The polling takes place each year between late September and early October.
In the original year of Index polling, 2019, 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 score.
The six individual dimensions and overall Index use a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 indicates complete opposition to the principle of religious freedom at issue and 100 indicates robust 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. Instead, Becket contributed its broad expertise representing people of all faiths in religious freedom cases to ensure that the polling instrument broadly reflected America’s diverse religious experiences and the full spectrum of religious freedom issues. Becket produces the final report, disseminates the findings, and engages the public in discussions on the Index and religious freedom.
2022 Index analysis
2022 Index Results
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. The most important change from last year was the four-point increase in Religious Pluralism, which reached a new all-time high of 84. While Religion and Policy and Religion in Society both decreased by three points, Religion and Policy dropped to 65, and Religion in Society returned to its 2020 score of 62. Church and State (56) decreased two points (also returning to its 2020 score) and both Religious Sharing (72) and Religion in Action (68) increased one point, but these changes were within the margin of error and too small to draw overarching conclusions.
Building on last year’s three-point increase, the Religious Pluralism results continue a strong upward trend that began in 2021. Total support and intense support increased for all five freedoms included in the Religious Pluralism dimension, and three of the freedoms saw intense support rise by over five percent. Even though particular applications of religious liberty remain controversial, the increase in support for religious pluralism across the board shows that Americans’ “live and let live” mentality extends to religion.
The decreases in Religion and Policy and Religion in Society reverse the previous year’s promising trend and tell a different story. All six freedoms in Religion and Policy saw intense support decline, some by as much as five percent. Additionally, total support decreased for five of the six freedoms, some by as much as eight percent, while the remaining freedom saw no change. Two of the three freedoms in the Religion in Society dimension saw both intense support or appreciation and total support or appreciation decline, with the public perception of religion and religious people reaching record lows.
This trend stands out from all the meaningful changes in this year’s Index. Support for religious liberty in private skyrocketed, but support for religious freedom in public or where it affects others declined. The following pages contain a more detailed analysis of each dimension.
The Index dimensions and scaled scores are as follows:
- Religious Pluralism: 84. 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, especially when those beliefs and practices may be outside the mainstream?
- Religion and Policy: 65. What is the proper place for religion when it intersects with law and policy? To what extent should the government be able to influence the religious practices of nonprofit organizations or businesses that partner with the government to provide public services?
- Religious Sharing: 72. When someone follows a religion, to what extent should they be free to share their religion and beliefs with others?
- Religion in Society: 62. 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: 56. What are the boundaries of interactions between government and religion?
- Religion in Action: 68. How free are individuals to practice their beliefs beyond the walls of their homes or places of worship?
2022 Dimension Analysis
Religious Pluralism Dimension Discussion
Dimension Score: 84
Americans continue to enthusiastically support religious pluralism. The Religious Pluralism dimension reached a new overall high score of 84, a rise of four points from 2021. Support for all questions in this dimension eclipsed 2021’s numbers, both in absolute numbers and intensity – a good sign for years to come. Given the four-year trend towards increased support for pluralism, we expect American support to remain strong and possibly increase in future editions of the Index.
The largest growth in high-intensity support (where respondents agreed that they “completely accept and support” a freedom) was for the freedom to pray and worship without fear of persecution, which rose by nine points to 72 percent. The freedom to practice religion in daily life without facing discrimination or harm and the freedom to choose a religion both rose by seven points to 67 percent and 73 percent, respectively. The smallest growth in high-intensity support was for tolerance and respect of a broad array of beliefs about God. This support still grew by four points, to 54 percent. However, the increase in intense support for pluralism across all questions by a minimum of four percentage points indicates that American’s support for religious diversity is robust and increasing.
The rising tide of support for religious pluralism cuts across generational boundaries. Coming off notable increases in 2021, enthusiastic support for the freedoms (1) to practice a religion without facing discrimination or harm, (2) to pray or worship without fear of persecution, and (3) to choose a religion had the most dramatic leaps of seven, nine, and seven points, respectively. These dramatic surges, as well as smaller bumps in the freedom to practice beliefs contrary to majority practices and tolerance of different ideas about God, boosted Gen Z’s score and helped push support for pluralism to its highest point yet.
Younger generations – Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X – were the most ardently supportive (“completely acceptive and supportive”) of freedom to practice beliefs contrary to majority practices. Yet Gen Z’s lagging support for freedom to choose a religion (only 63 percent “completely accept or support” this freedom, 10 points below average) and tolerance of different ideas about God (46 percent completely accept or support this freedom, eight points below average) still make them less supportive of religion overall than the broader population.
Other generations followed a similar pattern, albeit less dramatically. Both Baby Boomers (eight percent) and Millennials (11 percent) saw a significant increase in their complete acceptance and support for the freedom to pray or worship without fear of persecution. In contrast, Gen X saw its complete support for the freedom to choose a religion increase by 11 points. Total support for religious pluralism – those who completely or mostly accept and support the five freedoms in this dimension – saw small but consistent increases.
Unlike other dimensions, a respondent’s self-identified faith status was not predictive of a respondent’s score; respondents who identify as people of faith and respondents who do not identify as people of faith had nearly identical views towards Religious Pluralism. Across the five freedoms in this dimension, only one question had a significant difference between people of faith and people of no faith: people of faith (90 percent) were more supportive of tolerance and respect for a broad array of ideas and beliefs about God than people of no faith (85 percent).
Exposure to faith, however, proved to be very predictive – which is to say, personal relationships matter. People of no faith who nevertheless had people of faith in their social circles scored eight points higher on the Religious Pluralism dimension than people of no faith who had no religious people in their social circles. There were significant differences in acceptance and support for all five freedoms in the Religious Pluralism dimension.
Despite the division, dissatisfaction, and polarization that sometimes characterized 2022, American support for religious pluralism increased meaningfully. Even though other aspects of religious freedom remain controversial, there is a broad consensus that people should have the right to both follow the religion of their choice and live it out in their daily lives.
Religion and Policy Discussion
Dimension Score: 65
The Religion and Policy dimension covers the interaction of religious beliefs and practices with law and public policy. This year, the Religion and Policy dimension is at its lowest score since tracking began, a decline of three points from 2021. Several trends in this dimension mirrored the broader Index. First, people of faith were more supportive of every freedom in the Religion and Policy dimension score than people of no faith, both in absolute numbers and intensity. Second, Gen Z’s support for the six freedoms in this dimension lagged that of the other generations.
Of the six freedoms in the Religion and Policy dimension, Gen Z’s full support (“completely accepting and supportive”) was five to 11 percent below the total sample. Millennials were the generation most supportive of letting people run their private organizations according to their religious beliefs, while Gen X was more intensely supportive of letting individuals believe that certain behaviors or activities are immoral, sinful, and should be avoided in society than other generations.
The data detailing overall support (completely or mostly accepting and supportive) tells a similar story. For most of the freedoms included in this dimension, Gen Z was slightly less supportive than the broader sample. For example, Gen Z was eight percent less supportive than the entire sample of the right to believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman without facing government retribution, while the Silent Generation, on the other hand, was 16 percent more supportive.
A few freedoms, however, stand out from this overall trend. First, all generations scored evenly for the freedom for religious groups or organizations to make their own employment and leadership decisions without government interference. Second, Gen Z was close to the average on the freedom for religious organizations and leaders to discuss political topics and to endorse or oppose political candidates (Baby Boomers, surprisingly, lagged five percent behind the total sample).
Respondents were also polled in additional questions about the interaction between religious freedom and same-sex marriage in business, education, and healthcare, as well as about religious accommodations in prison, in schools, and in the workplace. Americans reached a broad consensus on the question of whether business owners should be allowed to act according to their religious beliefs and refrain from offering services for same sex weddings. Approximately 70 percent of all respondents sided with the business owner regardless of his or her religion or offered services. People of faith were generally more likely to side with the business owner and were more fervent in their agreement, while Gen Z was more likely to side against the business owner.
To address the question of religious conscience in healthcare, respondents were randomly assigned to one of two subgroups. Each group answered one of the following questions: (1) whether individual physicians should be allowed to opt-out of assisted suicide, elective abortion, or sex change procedures if it goes against their religious beliefs or (2) whether individual physicians should be able to opt-out of assisted suicide, elective abortion, or sex change procedures if it goes against their commitment to “do no harm.” Regardless of how you ask, nearly 3 in 4 Americans (73 percent) support allowing doctors to opt-out of medical procedures that go against their conscience.
Finally, respondents were asked what rights private religious schools should be granted. A majority agreed that a private religious school should have the right to require all student clubs to uphold the teachings of the private schools, including the orthodox belief that sex is reserved for traditional marriage. There was little variation on whether the private religious school was a K-12 school (56 percent) or a college (55 percent). Despite a year characterized by cultural conflict and political challenges, the American public continues to support policies that promote religious freedom.
Religious Sharing Discussion
Dimension Score: 72
The Religious Sharing dimension measures how Americans with different perspectives on religion interact with each other and how strongly they support the right of religious expression. The 2022 Index found that Americans still believe that religious people are welcome in the public square.
People of faith were overall more supportive of religious sharing, possibly because faith makes one more likely to value religious expression. As in previous years, a strong majority supported the rights of religious people to express and share religious beliefs with others. A slight increase from last year, 47 percent of respondents were completely accepting and supportive, while 38 percent of respondents were mostly accepting and supportive (thus 85 percent of respondents were supportive). Strong support rose to 53 percent among people of faith, while strong support fell to 36 percent among people of no faith. Total support rose to 88 percent among people of faith and fell to 79 percent among people of no faith.
Similarly, a strong majority also supported the right of religious people to preach their faith to others, though people of faith and people of no faith had divergent responses. Roughly equivalent to previous years, 73 percent of respondents were overall supportive: 36 percent were completely accepting and supportive, and 37 percent were mostly accepting and supportive.
Intense support is higher among people of faith (43 percent) and lower among people of no faith (24 percent). Total support follows the same trend: 81 percent among people of faith and 59 percent among people of no faith.
When asked about religious sharing in practice, Americans held similarly supportive views. For instance, there was widespread agreement that a religious student group should not be kicked off campus for requiring its leadership to be members in good standing of its faith community (e.g., refraining from premarital and homosexual sex, gambling, drinking, and smoking). It made little difference whether the public educational institution was a high school (72 percent) or a university (73 percent).
Following a tumultuous year, the American people agree strongly that places of worship and those who attend places of worship should not be subject to harassment or violence. An overwhelming majority of the sample, 94 percent, opposed violence at places of worship. Likewise, 93 percent of respondents opposed harassing people who are attending, entering, or exiting places of worship.
While many of the results are similar to previous years’, it is notable that Millennials are the generation most favorable to religious sharing. As Millennials’ careers progress to leadership positions, this affinity for religious sharing may make religious people, and especially religious employees, more willing to share their religious identities.
Dimension Score: 62
The Religion in Society dimension provides a broad overview of how Americans assess the societal contributions of religion and religious people. It also illustrates how individuals personally feel towards their neighbors of faith. These questions ask respondents about their feelings of acceptance and appreciation towards religion and people of faith, as well as their evaluation of whether religion provides a net good for society.
The Religion in Society dimension decreased by three points from 2021, mostly due to a drop in the view that religion and people of faith are part of the solution to the issues impacting the country. At 62, this year’s score returned to the 2020 score, one point below the 2019 score. As with other dimensions, people of faith scored much higher than the total sample, and people of no faith scored the lowest.
One goal of this dimension is to gauge how Americans view religion and religious people. To accomplish this goal, respondents were randomly assigned to one of three subgroups and asked whether (1) people of faith, (2) religion or (3) people of faith and religion are part of the solution or problem for issues in our country. The percentage of respondents that viewed religion or religious people as being part of the solution is at the lowest levels since the Religious Freedom Index began tracking this question in 2019. Last year, 61 percent answered that religion was part of the solution, 64 percent said the same for people of faith, and 58 percent said the same for people of faith and religion. This year, those respective numbers dropped to 50 percent (an 11 percent decrease), 55 percent (a nine percent decrease), and 50 percent (an eight percent decrease).
Answers diverged based on how often respondents attended a house of worship. Respondents who attended a house of worship at least once a week overwhelmingly said all three of the subcategories were part of the solution. Among respondents who attended a house of worship almost weekly, 81 percent said people of faith were part of the solution, but much smaller majorities saw religion (54 percent) and people of faith and religion (55 percent) as part of the solution. This suggests that the word “religion” has a negative connotation for this group of respondents.
Among respondents who attended houses of worship less frequently, opinion was more evenly divided. Just a slim majority of respondents who attended a house of worship approximately once a month said all three categories were part of the solution. Finally, a slim majority of respondents who seldom or never attend a house of worship identified all three categories as being part of the problem.
With fewer religious Americans, and non-religious Americans holding a less favorable view of religion and religious Americans, one likely consequence of current demographic trends is that religion may play a smaller role in American culture, especially when religion contradicts current social mores.
However, Americans continue to see religion as indispensable. A majority of Americans agreed that “religion is still a great benefit for society at large,” and neither the government (73 percent) nor nonprofits (60 percent) could replace the “unique spiritual benefits” that religion provides. A similar number (74 percent) of respondents said that patients and families should have access to healthcare facilities that share their beliefs on controversial topics such as assisted suicide, elective abortion, and sex change procedures, suggesting that Americans continue to respect the important role religion plays in the everyday lives of people of faith. Despite political divides, Americans still believe that there should be space for people of faith to follow their religious teachings on matters of contention.
Church and State Discussion
Dimension Score: 56
Even in a country like the United States, where there is a strong tradition of pluralism, religious autonomy, and church-state separation, a government performing its basic duties will inevitably interact with religion and religious organizations. The Church and State dimension measures views on the government’s relationship with religion. The dimension focuses on government use of religious symbols or language in public displays and government’s involvement with religious organizations that provide services to the community. At 56, the Church and State dimension decreased two points from 2021, reverting to the 2020 score.
Respondents were asked to rate their agreement with the statement that “religious organizations that provide services to help in the community (e.g., soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.) should be just as eligible to receive government funds as non-religious organizations.” Like in previous years, 72 percent agreed, suggesting that Americans still think that faith-based organizations have a vital role to play in civil society and should be able to receive the same benefits and funding as their secular counterparts. This number was higher among people of faith (78 percent) and lower among people of no faith (60 percent).
Respondents also answered questions about real-world interactions between church and state. After months of Covid restrictions and precautions, respondents were asked to describe how government actions towards places of worship affected their trust in government. Most respondents (65 percent) said the government’s actions had no impact, but nearly three times as many respondents said the government’s actions decreased trust (26 percent) compared to those who said the government’s actions increased their trust (nine percent) These numbers suggest that the pandemic increased skepticism of government’s ability to safeguard – and respect – places of worship.
When asked about religious freedom for prisoners, respondents provided a diverse set of answers. On the one hand, substantial majorities agreed that prisoners should have time and space to pray (72 percent), access to religious texts (66 percent), access to a chaplain both generally (73 percent) and in an execution chamber (67 percent), and permission to have a chaplain lay hands on a prisoner in the prisoner’s final moments before execution (65 percent). This suggests that broad swaths of the American public think prisoners should be extended some level of religious freedom.
On the other hand, less than half of respondents thought prisoners should have access to special religious diets such as kosher or Halal food (47 percent) or religious apparel like skull caps, kufis, and turbans (42 percent). Keeping with that trend, less than half of respondents thought prisoners should be allowed to grow a full beard if it is required by their religion (46 percent).
The support for prayer time and religious texts, but not kosher food or religious apparel, suggests that, despite Americans’ strong support for minority faiths, their perception of what accommodations prisons should grant may be colored by mainstream religious practices. These mixed results may suggest that Americans embrace a harsh view of incarceration where prisoners are deprived of any treatment perceived as “special,” unusual, or difficult for the prison system to accommodate.
This year’s results for Church and State show that Americans remain divided on the ways in which the government should interact with religious institutions and symbols of faith. As in previous years, Americans are more supportive of religious freedom when it is private and aligned with current social customs rather than when it is public or contradicts current social customs. As religious practices continue to change in a post-Covid era, it will be interesting to see how the public’s views evolve.
Religion in Action Discussion
Dimension Score: 68
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, work-from-home policies and the reliance on videoconferences rendered many questions surrounding religious life in the workplace pointless. It is heartening to see that, amidst the return to in-person work, this year’s Religion in Action score increased slightly, from a score of 67 in 2021 to 68 in 2022.
Interestingly, younger respondents scored higher for religion in action than their older counterparts, perhaps reflecting a shift from old-fashioned workplace norms towards a “brings your whole self to work” mentality. Gen Z scored the highest for all three rights included in this dimension, while the Silent Generation scored the lowest. The general trend is unmistakable: support for Religion in Action increased with each younger generation.
In one question this year, we drilled down on Americans’ support for general principles by asking which accommodations businesses should generally be required to provide to employees. Respondents strongly (64 percent) supported the ability to schedule work shifts around religious holidays, and more than half believed that employees should be permitted time and space to pray. But only 45 percent supported requiring businesses to oblige religious grooming and clothing requirements, such as the need for a full beard or a skull cap, and only 38 percent agreed that special religious diets (such as kosher or halal food) should be accommodated. These trends mirror the trend found in Church and State, where respondents were much less likely to support permitting uncommon religious practices in prison.
More Americans (25 percent) believe that all the above accommodations should be required than none of them (18 percent), but the divide between workplace shift arrangements and other on-the-job accommodations is notable. As the question specified requirements placed on businesses, it is likely that support for businesses adopting these accommodations voluntarily is higher.
In line with the results of the Dimension, we found that Gen Z was vastly more supportive of required accommodations: more than a third (37 percent) selected all five options. In comparison, only ten percent selected none, and each option saw at least 50 percent support. Holiday scheduling reached 71 percent support, the highest of any level. Interestingly, Millennials saw much higher than average support (64 percent) for requiring businesses to provide time and space to pray, topping Gen X by five points. Baby Boomers, however, flipped the nationwide average on its head: 25 percent were against requiring any accommodations. In comparison, only 17 percent supported all the accommodations.
The continuing support for Religion in Action suggests that Americans think their fellow citizens should be free to practice their religions beyond the walls of their homes or their places of worship. As Americans embrace our nation’s diversity of faith traditions, Americans remain committed to pluralism.
For years, pollsters have noted a slow decline in American religiosity, and this year’s Index data tells a similar story. Each year, the survey asks respondents to rate how important religion is in their lives. This year, the percentage of Americans who rated religion as extremely or very important in their life (38 percent) reached an all-time low, down nine percent from 2021 (47 percent) and five percent from 2019 (43 percent).
Other demographic questions about respondents’ faith follow this trend. While the percentage of respondents who attend a house of worship at least once a week remained constant (27 percent), the number of respondents who attend a house of worship at least once a month (35 percent) hit an all-time low for the Index, down nine percent since its 2021 high (44 percent) and five percent since 2019 (40 percent).
Americans embrace a diversity of faith
While fewer Americans identify as religious, the majority (65 percent) continue to identify as people of faith. Most Americans continue to embrace religious freedom, regardless of their faith status. This year’s Index, with a composite score of 68, tied 2021’s Index for the highest one yet. Support for Religious Pluralism surged by four points, showing that Americans embrace a diverse, pluralistic society. Our findings show that Americans are committed to protecting the rights of minority faith groups and ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, can exercise and share their faith.
As mentioned earlier, Religious Pluralism showed notable increases in both total and intense support. This record support is likely durable; not only did each of the dimension’s five freedoms display record-high total support, but intense support has surged for all five freedoms in the past two years. But unlike other dimensions, a respondent’s faith status proved to be of little predictive value. Instead, younger generations, especially Gen Z, proved less supportive of religious pluralism overall.
The additional questions also evidence solid support for religious pluralism. For example, a majority agreed with the statement that “the government should not require privately-owned businesses with ethical or religious convictions” to support elective abortions (59 percent), assisted suicide (58 percent), or sex change procedures (54 percent).
Despite overall decreases in personal religiosity, Americans still understand that religion deserves respect and protection. Especially as America grows more religiously diverse, this virtue of pluralism will prove to be necessary for maintaining a stable, healthy, and welcoming society. The fact that Americans embrace a diversity of faith at record levels should give us hope for the future of this country.
Rediscovering human dignity and civil rights
The additional questions of this year’s Index found that many Americans are unaware of the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom. In contrast to Americans’ widespread awareness of freedom of speech (85 percent), less than half (47 percent) of Americans are aware that the First Amendment protects religious freedom. Americans with higher levels of education showed only slightly better knowledge of the First Amendment: barely half (51 percent) of Americans with a post-graduate degree were aware that the First Amendment protects religious freedom.
Constitutional knowledge isn’t the only way to gauge Americans’ understanding of how their faith integrates with their civic life. In this year’s Index, as in 2020, we measured the role of faith in Americans’ voting decisions. Compared to 2020, registered voters were six percent more likely to say faith had little to no influence on their vote in the 2022 elections (55 percent in 2022, 61 percent in 2020). Even people of faith were much more likely to say faith had little to no influence in their voting than in 2020 (46 percent in 2022, 38 percent in 2020). This may represent, in part, a rise in concerns over economic conditions during a period of inflation and poor market performance.
Even with the shrinking role of faith in individual lives and Americans’ lack of knowledge of their First Amendment religious freedom protections, respondents who described themselves as people of faith maintained that faith has a distinctly positive effect on their lives. Among other things, respondents of faith said that their religion or place of worship is a source of meaning (84 percent), improves their contentment/happiness/fulfillment (82 percent), exposes them to different points of view (74 percent), increases the number of close relationships/friends in their life (60 percent), brings them into new social circles (57 percent), and makes them feel more connected to people with different views/cultural backgrounds/beliefs (49 percent). On religion’s societal effect, most Americans agreed that “religion is still a great benefit for society at large” and neither the government (73 percent) nor nonprofits (60 percent) could replace the “unique spiritual benefits” that religion provides. These Index findings confirm other reported research on the benefits of faith.
Finding consensus in protecting minorities
While Americans remain divided over many of today’s pressing issues, there is one principle that a vast majority agrees with: the protection of minority religions. The 2022 Index shows that Americans overwhelmingly unify around making space for lesser-known religions in public life.
For example, one additional question asked respondents to measure their support for protections of Native American religious use of peyote. 81 percent of the overall sample answered in support, with 45 percent saying they “strongly agree” with safeguarding this minority religious practice. The even broader consensus came when respondents were asked about their level of support for protecting Native American religious sites on federal land. Overall, 89 percent responded in support of protections, with 57 percent answering that they “strongly support” preserving Native American sacred sites. All in all, Americans overwhelmingly agree that the government should not interfere with the longstanding religious traditions of Native American groups.
The support for minority religions does not end there. Another set of questions asked respondents about their approval of minority religions in the workplace. One question asked if employers should be required to accommodate religious holidays (like the Sabbath) for their employees; 64 percent answered that they should.
To test potential biases against minority religions, several questions randomized the religious identity of a hypothetical business owner who refuses to offer a service for a same-sex wedding due to their religious convictions. Roughly 7 in 10 Americans supported the business owner’s right to act on their beliefs, regardless of whether the business owner in question was Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. Overall, respondents broadly agreed that the U.S. government should protect the ability of minority religions to live out their faith in the public square.
Despite the strong support for minority religions, respondents who identified as religious non-Christians reported feeling less accepted in society than in 2021. This year, 14 percent of religious non-Christians reported that they felt only “a small amount” or “not at all” welcomed in society, a 6-point jump from last year’s Index. Many factors could explain this increase, including targeted attacks on minority religious groups (like Orthodox Jews) throughout some of America’s largest cities.
The split between minority religious adherents feeling less accepted in society and the widespread support for minority religious freedom suggests that there is a gap between Americans’ perception of support for minorities and the actions they take to accept them. The noted gap between support for Religious Pluralism and Religion and Policy dimensions may indicate that while Americans genuinely want to welcome minority faiths, the controversy around legal protections for religious freedom leaves religious minorities wanting more concrete protections. Alternatively, minorities returning to the workplace and civic life as society re-opens may be experiencing a loss of pandemic-era solidarity and encountering alienating restrictions or discrimination in public spaces.
Regardless, the data suggest that there is a unique opportunity for Americans to match their outward support for minority religious groups with tangible action. A majority of Americans agree that minority religions have a rightful seat at the table of religious liberty, but ensuring that people of minority faiths get the memo may require more than theoretical support.
The most important takeaway from this report is that Americans remain supportive of religious freedom even though numerous measurements from both the Index and outside sources suggest that Americans are becoming less religious.
This year’s Index tells a story as complex as our nation itself. Indeed, we find concerning signs, as confidence in religion as part of the solution to society’s problems dips to record lows, and nearly 1 in 4 Americans (24 percent) report having little to no appreciation of the contributions people of faith make to society (up five percent since 2021 and seven percent since 2019). In a different question, respondents were randomly assigned to one of three subgroups and asked whether (1) people of faith, (2) religion, or (3) people of faith and religion are part of the solution for issues in our country. The percentage of respondents who answered in the affirmative dropped to 50 percent (an 11 percent decrease from 2021), 55 percent (a nine percent decrease from 2021), and 50 percent (an eight percent decrease from 2021), respectively, the lowest levels since the Religious Freedom Index began tracking this question in 2019.
Most Americans, however, still agree that religion is a beneficial – and irreplaceable – part of our society and support the core rights that empower people of faith to live by their beliefs. Driven by rising support for pluralism, the Index retains its all-time high score of 68.
Although Americans’ may sometimes struggle to place religious freedom in the Constitution, this year’s Index demonstrates that religious freedom maintains broad public appeal. But it also shows the growing tension between cultural support for religious pluralism and the robust legal protections that make it possible. All Americans – including those who adhere to minority faiths or have seen their religious beliefs fall out of societal popularity – need robust protections for the free exercise of religion. In the years ahead, the Index will continue to explore how Americans bridge the gap between beliefs and action, as well as examine how religious communities respond to the shifting cultural climate.