What a difference a question makes!
Hang with me for a moment, and we'll delve into the latest national poll tied to gay rights vs. religious liberty.
But first, some crucial background: As you may recall, we highlighted a Religion News Service report last week on PRRI survey findings indicating that "no major U.S. religious group opposes refusing service to gays":
In that post, we noted that this was the question asked by PRRI:
Do you favor or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs?
In response, I said:
Here's what I wonder: Is that the right question for the pollster to ask?
Moreover, would defenders of religious freedom propose an alternate wording? If so, might those voices be helpful in a story reporting on the poll results?
Earlier this week, the issue became even more timely with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding to take up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
Fast-forward to today, and RNS (for which I write occasionally freelance) has a different story on a different survey that asked a different question. And the results of that LifeWay Research survey are fascinating, especially when placed side by side with last week's numbers. Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana, who writes for LifeWay, has the full details.
Here is the lede from RNS' Adelle Banks:
(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.”
The specific question asked by LifeWay:
When sexual freedom and religious freedom conflict, which freedom do you feel is more important?
According to LifeWay, 90 percent of those with evangelical beliefs say religious freedom is more important than sexual freedom when the two conflict. But according to PRRI, only 50 percent of white evangelical Protestants think it’s acceptable for businesspeople to invoke their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays.
Did 40 percent of evangelicals change their mind? Or did the way the issue was presented dramatically influence the responses received?
I won't go all Mark Twain on you and suggest that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
But I will gently suggest — to my journalist friends and news consumers who read GetReligion — that simple stats often require serious scrutiny.
That seems to be the case when attempting to gauge where the public stands on sex vs. religion.