What Millennials Think About Religious Liberty May Shock You

New poll on First Amendment rights needs to be read with care, might be start of 'an important conversation'

Nine out of 10 millennials support First Amendment rights and religious freedom, according to a new poll. Yet the results may not be as clear-cut as they seem at first.

The Fund for American Studies, an educational nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., surveyed 803 adults across the country to get the results as part of a “Support for Freedom Index.”

It’s not clear these results indicate millennials are ardent freedom lovers.

The group claims an overwhelming majority of millennials age 18-34 support religious freedom.

“The media keeps showing us images of violent protests on college campuses, young Americans being angry and disruptive, but the truth is that millennials support religious and social freedoms more than non-millennials,” Roger Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, said in a statement. “There’s a vast, silent majority of millennials who embrace these freedoms, and those are the young men and women we are seeing in our programs.”

Ninety-three percent of millennials support religious freedom, according to the poll; 92 percent of millennials support free speech.

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Related: Faith and Millennials: Bringing Them Back into the Fold 

“Using survey research and quantitative analysis, we have designed a scale, the Freedom Support Index, which gauges how Americans define freedom and whether they generally support more or less government interference in their daily lives,” the group says.

Millennials “predominantly believe that ‘more government’ is necessary to protect freedoms,” according to the Fund for American Studies. “But they also believe the government should be safeguarding freedom more than guaranteeing security.”

Still, not everyone is on board with the results.

“It’s not clear these results indicate millennials are ardent freedom lovers,” Joy Pullmann, managing editor of The Federalist, wrote in an op-ed. “Instead, they suggest millennials have never been given clear instruction in political and moral philosophy, which other in-depth sociological research confirms.”

Even the Support for Freedom Index authors note an uncertainty in what the results mean overall.

“Admittedly, the index needed more questions in each section to provide a larger understanding of Americans’ understanding [of] and support for freedom,” the project authors note in the index. “Due to time constraints and budget we were limited in this first edition, but believe this offers a beginning to an important conversation.”

Related: The Real Objectives of Trump’s Religious Liberty Order

For example, the “93 percent of millennials who support religious freedom” number appears to come solely from those who strongly support or somewhat support the statement: “Government should not interfere with the peaceful religious practices of Christians, [Muslims], Jews, and other faiths.”

Along similar lines, the “90 percent of millennials who support free speech” appears to come from those who strongly support or somewhat support the statement: “Students with unpopular opinions should be able to express their thoughts without fear of punishment.”

In her piece in The Federalist, Pullmann shares notes of caution in interpreting these poll results.

“[M]illennials aren’t exactly expressing unqualified support for freedom of conscience,” she wrote. “In fact, a majority of them err on the side of forcing people to disobey their God to obey their state, a troublingly totalitarian demand — especially given that protecting this freedom inflicts no tangible harm.”

“Other prominent polls have found millennials shockingly willing to curb fundamental rights of fellow citizens, such as Pew’s finding that 40 percent think minorities’ levels of offendedness should serve as criteria the government uses to shut down speech,” Pullmann noted.

In the Fund for American Studies survey, 53 percent of the people opposed the statement: “Business owners should have the right to refuse service to people when certain practices are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

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