By Jim Fair

The coronavirus pandemic has limited travel, closed businesses, and caused vast illness and death but it has not dampened the religious fervor and faith of Americans.

That is the core finding of the 2020 Becket Religious Freedom Index. (Full report here.)

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.  

In its second 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.

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