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When it’s sexuality versus religion, Americans stand divided

“When sexual freedom and religious freedom conflict, which freedom do you feel is more important?” Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

(RNS) When faith and sexuality conflict, which should prevail?

Americans are divided on the question, according to a LifeWay Research study released the day after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a baker who cited his religious beliefs in refusing to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Almost half — 48 percent — say religious freedom is more important in such cases. Almost a quarter (24 percent) vote for sexual freedom and 28 percent aren’t sure, according to the study, released Tuesday (June 27).

In addition, 31 percent say religious freedom is “always more important.”

“It’s clear Americans value religious liberty,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based evangelical research firm. “But when it comes to sex, they aren’t sure religion should have the final word. That’s especially true for younger Americans and those who aren’t religious.”

Researchers also asked about what people think motivates religious believers who oppose sexual freedom. Almost half — 49 percent — said faith is the motivator. A fifth — 20 percent — said the motivator is hate. Another 31 percent were not sure.

Respondents showed distinct differences on religious and sexual freedom depending on their gender, region and religious affiliation.

For example, men (30 percent) were more likely than women (19 percent) to say sexual freedom is more important than religious freedom when the two conflict. Southerners (53 percent) and Westerners (49 percent) were more likely to choose “religious freedom” than those living in the Northeast (38 percent).

The nonreligious were more likely (49 percent) to select sexual freedom than Christians (15 percent) and those of other religions (28 percent). Those with evangelical beliefs were far more likely (90 percent) to opt for religious freedom than those without them (39 percent).

The study of 1,000 people was conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2016, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

52 Comments

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  • These types of questions are so loaded and lack any defining details. Why is this even an article?

  • A good follow-up question would be “How often do you think that conflicts between these two freedoms happen in everyday life?” – without this info, the current data makes it look like the conflict is bigger than it is.

  • You have all the religious freedom you want regarding your individual sex life. That is all. If you don’t want to serve the public, don’t go into business.

  • What an idiotic question.

    The issue is not sexual freedom VERSUS religious freedom. The question is solely RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Do you have the freedom to worship as you choose? Do I have the freedom to be free of whatever set of religious beliefs you ascribe to?

    In the case of this handful of wedding vendors, it is an issue of discrimination on the basis of religious belief. If I go to you for a cake or flowers, I am going to you for exactly the same cake or flowers you might provide to all of the other people whom you believe are going to burn in hell forever. I am not asking for your approval of my sex life, to have sex with you, to have sex with your cake, or for you to be present in any way in my life, other than to provide the goods or services you advertise.

  • Although Ms. Banks header is straight from the study, to get the 48%, the always and usually were added together. When I found the study results and looked at results on a more detailed basis, data made sense but only by looking at specific sub-groups. No overall beakdown of respondents by age, education etc.

  • Because it’s Lifeway Research. A mouthpiece for the Southern Baptist Convention. RNS publishes too much of their garbage at face value.

  • It’s not an either/or situation. Religious freedom does not entail a right or privilege to stick your nose into the private life of others. “Sexual freedom” here really means respecting the lives of others. “Religious freedom” to these conservative Christians is an Orwellism. It really means Christian privilege to attack the freedom of other.

  • “Sexual freedom” was deliberately chosen by the Southern Baptist polling group. It’s a loaded term designed to elicit negative responses from people. In other words, they went in with an ideological preference, designed their poll to give them the desired outcome, and are now touting it as being “all that”.

    A more honest and fair poll would have used either “marriage equality” or “laws protecting LGBT rights”.

    The poll is garbage not because of the results but because it was wholly biased and used for a pre-determined outcome.

  • So now we gotta watch out for somebody “having sex with people’s cake”, is that it?

    Ben, you done gone hog wild around here !!!

  • Sodomy is a sexual perversion, and those who indulge in it are mentally ill. They need help, not encouragement to continue down that path of destruction.

  • “Help” from your types is usually done in the form of discrimination, hurling insults, spreading lies about people, attacking rights of others, assault, torture and murder.

    It appears you are part the people on the path of destruction. All one has to do is see the bodies left in their wake.

    Nobody needs the “help” you are offering.

  • Yes it is a stupid question; your analysis is correct. Even the wording is dumb. Religious freedom means different things to different people as does sexual freedom. The results are meaningless. the recent SCOTUS decision that allows gov money go to children’s play ground at a church will become very interesting when a mosque or temple requests the same resources. But I digress. Thanks for your analysis.

  • Can you define sodomy, please? Be sure to go into graphic detail. And when you are done, please see what hetero people do.

    BTW! I feel just fine. I would feel even finer if antigay, so called Christians would just learn to deal with their own obvious issues, instead of pretending that they can deal with mine.

  • You’ll have to talk to the baptists about that. They are the ones with the inability to discuss religion without tarting it up as sex.

  • Sex is a necessary need. Religion is an option, except in the USA with its ridiculous “religious freedom” paranoia and it cynical political scheming.

  • “Can you define sodomy, please?”

    –I would, but it appears from your comment that you’re already a man of quite some experience.

  • Nope, have all the proper licensing and training necessary to give a proper prognosis! Good job on verifying, though. Can never be too careful.

  • Okay, then outside the bedroom it can be illegal, yes? And if it’s more than two consenting adults, it would also be illegal?

  • I don’t know. I guess the best thing for you is to try those and see what happens. I am sure everything will work out just fine. 🙂

  • So it basically, in aggregate comes down to:

    Religious people value religious liberty – esp. when their religion is based on misogyny.

    Non-religious people on the other hand tend to not value religious based oppression of others so much.

  • “It’s clear Americans value religious liberty,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based evangelical research firm. “But when it comes to sex, they aren’t sure religion should have the final word. That’s especially true for younger Americans and those
    who aren’t religious.”

    So, younger Americans and those who aren’t religious . . . aren’t sure religion should have
    the final word?” Ya think?!

    The survey doesn’t tell us this, but I believe that religious folks’ choices regarding sex range everywhere from “just say NO!” by the fundamentalists, to “NEVER say no!” by the liberal, mainline churches.

    Is this a great country, or what?

  • Prognoses based on false diagnosis and erroneous understanding ( or wilful ignorance/rejection?) of the relevant evidence have so little chance of being accurate that the odds of winning the lottery suddenly became more attractive.

  • So, “sex is a desire, not a need,” and “”many people have lived long and productive lives without it?”

    These people may be considered “sexually pure” by the Augustinain Catholics, but they’re certainly much less likely to lead joyous spiritual lives without sex with a loving partner, and the ability for the two of them to create a wonderful Christian family.

    Sex is a choice gift of God. !’ve even heard it said, “If God had created anything BETTER than sex, SHE would’ve kept it for herself!

  • It is interesting…one freedom – sexual freedom – actually does not infringe upon other people’s freedoms at all. The other freedom – religious freedom – potentially infringes upon the freedom of non-religious people. Sad state of affairs when pushing your religious views on others who are not your religion is seen as positive in our country.

  • And you are free to believe that as much as you like. When you start infringing on people’s right to do what they want sexually between consensual adults, you cross the line. Those who favor free will and sexual freedom have no impact on your life whatsoever – you are free to believe what you believe about sex and act accordingly, denying yourself whatever sexual pleasure you want.

  • That’s right, you don’t know. But that’s just because you base your laws on your emotions, and not reason. 🙂

  • “When you start infringing on people’s right to do what they want sexually between consensual adults, you cross the line.”

    –Sex is a right? Where does it say that?

    “Those who favor free will and sexual freedom have no impact on your life whatsoever”

    –This is gross ignorance, as is evidenced by the persecution of those who object to such perversions on religious grounds and have had law suits, fines, imprisonment, and endured threats on their life for not agreeing with this nasty lifestyle.

    “you are free to believe what you believe about sex and act accordingly, denying yourself whatever sexual pleasure you want.”

    –Then you are advocating chaos, because that’s what unfiltered freedom is. That’s why we have rule of law, so that your freedom doesn’t hurt me and mine doesn’t hurt you. You sound like a hedonist, and that is the opposite of a compliment.

  • No YOU are advocating chaos. In your world everyone is allowed to impose their personal religious belief on others Willy nilly. My proposition is an example of what it means to live in a society. Not everyone is going to have the same beliefs as you. You have to deal with that. Once you learn what it means to live with different beliefs around you life will be much easier for you!!

  • Living in a society where everyone believes differently from you is chaos. I’m sorry, but you are demented if you don’t see that.

  • ?!? You need to do some basic study of culture and beliefs. We have done pretty well in the modern era with people believing various things! You know not everyone is your brand of Christianity in this country/world right? Chaos is when there is no order. Simply having different beliefs is not chaos…not being able to deal with that fact that there are different beliefs and allowing everyone to deny people in society goods/services/whatever based on their personal views is chaos.

  • Definition of Culture: “Culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. … ”

    –So it is a COMMON set of beliefs and behaviors held by a group – a society – not separate ones. Sorry, but it is you who needs to study up on culture.

    “Chaos is when there is no order.”

    –Now you’re getting it. And in order to prevent chaos, we implement laws – which restrict freedoms – in order to safeguard the society as a whole. Again I’m sorry, but you can’t just do whatever you like because you feel like it, because what you might like to do could hurt another person.

  • “Now you’re getting it. And in order to prevent chaos, we implement laws – which restrict freedoms – in order to safeguard the society as a whole. Again I’m sorry, but you can’t just do whatever you like because you feel like it, because what you might like to do could hurt another person.”

    Exactly! That is what it means to live in a society. As I pointed out in another comment I posted to this article, believing in sexual freedom does not harm another person. Believing that your religious beliefs should dictate what people do between themselves that causes no harm is the problem. For example, your religious belief is that sex is only for procreation. You would like to see laws in place that make it illegal for two men to have sex or for a man and woman to have oral/anal sex. Such law is unnecessary (a study of legal history and the spirit of the laws is useful as well here) because it does not remedy an actual harmful act. There is nothing that the two men having sex or the heterosexual non-procreative act does to harm anyone. Having laws to protect people from sexually harmful behavior is appropriate. We have those.

  • “believing in sexual freedom does not harm another person”

    –Where’s your proof?

    “Believing that your religious beliefs should dictate what people do between themselves that causes no harm is the problem.”

    –That’s my belief though, so who’s belief it right? According to you, we can have different views. Why can’t I hold my views if you’re allowed to hold yours? That’s pretty hypocritical.

    “because it does not remedy an actual harmful act.”

    –You think sodomy isn’t harmful? Hahaha! Why don’t you check out the CDC stats on MSM for starters and see how “healthy” it truly is. SMH.

    “There is nothing that the two men having sex or the heterosexual non-procreative act does to harm anyone. ”

    –Again, LOL! You’re living in a bubble!

    “Having laws to protect people from sexually harmful behavior is appropriate. We have those.”

    –But who’s to decide what sexual behavior is harmful if it’s all about a person’s beliefs? BDSM is seen as harmful behavior, yet many seem to enjoy that. So who’s right in that situation, and by what authority is it properly understood and judged by?

  • You yourself said: “And in order to prevent chaos, we implement laws – which restrict freedoms – in order to safeguard the society as a whole. Again I’m sorry, but you can’t just do whatever you like because you feel like it, because what you might like to do could hurt another person.” My view aligns with this. Yours does not. If you are going to restrict people’s sexual activity, you need to have proof there is good reason to. I do not need to prove that believing in sexual freedom does not harm anyone. That is the position one starts with. Prove to me there is harm to you that two men have sex. It will be a long day waiting for that proof!!

    BDSM between people who enjoy it is not harmful. So you are wrong to deny someone the freedom to do it. There is no “who’s right in that situation” about it…

  • Nope, I already know anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional (see Lawrence v. Texas).

    Maybe you should stop being so jealous of all the people having sodomy without you. It would calm you down.

  • As is typical of the modern American survey this is a mixed bag akin to a Cantonese Restaurant menu, with no disrespect to those from Canton. It is one from Column A, and two from Column B. At the same time, it simply tells us something that most of us already know instinctively.

  • I agree with Shawnie5 to the extent that I think it evident that God calls some to a life of celibacy; but it is a very distinct call and not the normative pattern for life. At the same time, I think Americans are obsessed and nuttier about the question then others in different parts of the world.

  • More obsessed than at other times in our own history, too. Only a hundred years ago (a time of high immigration rates) social commentators were lamenting that so many American women, particularly educated ones, were not marrying and having children. Rates of singleness were about the same as they are now, but without the accompanying promiscuity and cohabitation (at least on women’s part!). I think it was better understood then that sexuality was not a need but something to be enjoyed only after real needs were taken care of — no man was considered entitled to sex or children, of course, without being able to provide.

  • What an evil survey. Shame on Lifeway for this recycled from old “anti-miscegenation” propaganda.

    Disparaging loving adult minority relationships as just being about sexual activity,as Lifeway is doing here, has been done before.

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