Evangelicals Say It’s ‘Religious Freedom’ When Christians Refuse Gay Couples—But Not If Muslims Do It

Evangelicals Say It’s ‘Religious Freedom’ When Christians Refuse Gay Couples—But Not If Muslims Do It

A new poll released by Morning Consult just a day after the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling is a revealing look at the debate over “religious freedom” in the United States.

Conducted the week of May 25, the poll found that white evangelicals were more likely to say that a Christian bakery had the Constitutional right to refuse service to same-sex couples than a Muslim business who turned away LGBTQ customers. Six in 10 white evangelicals (60 percent) sided with the Christian-owned company in cases of religious refusal, while just 46 percent of the same group felt Muslims had the right to do so.

The same trends were true when it came to white evangelicals’ beliefs about the “religious freedom” rights of other faiths. Fifty-five percent of white evangelicals polled believed Jewish business owners should have the right to discriminate in the name of their religious beliefs, while just half said the same about Mormon-owned companies.

Meanwhile, 20 percent of evangelicals claimed they have never met an LGBTQ person.

These results are strikingly different from overall findings in the Morning Consult poll, in which 2201 adults were surveyed about their opinions on faith-based refusals. Fifty-seven percent of respondents claimed it should be illegal to deny services to LGBTQ people solely on the basis of religion, while just 37 percent of those polled supported turning people away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A separate poll released the same day from Reuters/Ipsos came to the same conclusion: 72 percent of survey respondents claimed that Christian business owners like Jack Phillips, the baker at the center of the Masterpiece case, should not be able to discriminate in the name of their beliefs.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the “Free Exercise Clause” of the U.S. Constitution by reprimanding Phillips for turning away Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who requested a cake for their wedding in 2012. In siding with the plaintiffs, the state civil rights board ordered the Lakewood, CO baker to offer “comprehensive staff training” to employees on local anti-discrimination laws.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed that “the neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling.

“The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of [Phillips’] case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection,” said Kennedy, a moderate conservative who has authored many of the court’s most progressive decisions on LGBTQ rights.

While Kennedy stopped short of weighing on the “religious freedom” argument, he said the debate would be decided by future court cases.

Other potential Supreme Court cases over whether people of faith have the Constitutional right to turn away LGBTQ customers include Arlene’s Flowers Inc. vs. State of Washington, in which florist Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide floral arrangements for a gay wedding. Stutzman, who claimed her “relationship with Jesus Christ” made her unable to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony, has filed a writ of certiorari with SCOTUS to hear the case.

But as the U.S. court system continues to deliberate over the rights of LGBTQ people versus people of faith, the Morning Consult poll shows that those Constitutional liberties aren’t applied equally across all religions.

That’s why GLAAD has asked media outlets to stop using terms like “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” without scare quotes or an asterisk.

“Advocates for these types of bills often describe the issue as purely about religious freedom or liberty,” the national LGBTQ organization claims. “However, they are actually quite different from religious liberty as it is usually understood. At their core, these cases are not about the right to practice religion freely, but rather using religion as a tool to push for exemptions from laws created to protect fellow citizens.”

Instead, GLAAD suggests that publications use terms like “religious exemption” to describe faith-based refusal laws.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.