Survey Says When it Comes to the ‘Religious Liberty’ Issue, Atheists/Agnostics Overwhelmingly Oppose Catholic Bishops

The Pew Research Center just published a survey (PDF) they did about Catholics and their views on religious liberty.

First, let’s talk about the big findings: Most Catholics who are familiar with the “religious liberty” issues agree with the bishops:

That is, they agree that the Obama administration is threatening their religious liberty by mandating that some church-affiliated institutions, such as schools and hospitals, provide free contraceptive services to their employees, in violation of church teachings.

But when you look at Catholics overall, Obama still has more support than Romney does. (So the conservative Catholics aren’t winning the minds of mainstream Catholics as much as they would like to. Yay!)

Now, here’s the interesting part no one is talking about. Again, it’s not really newsworthy; it just stands out. When the Pew folks did this survey, they got a *lot* of atheists and agnostics answering the phones…

It turns out that non-theists are more familiar with this controversy than Catholics-at-large and just as familiar with it as White Catholics… yet the percentage of us who agree with the bishops is abysmally small.

Furthermore, we are almost as familiar with this controversy as the most frequent of Church-goers:

What does that say about us?

I would think Catholics are obligated to be aware of this issue because it’s their Church complaining so hard about providing contraception to women and the like. But non-theists have no such obligation. We pay attention to this controversy, not because we have to, but because these are relevant issues to us. That speaks well of our movement.

Also, once we familiarize ourselves on these issues, the overwhelming majority of atheists/agnostics think the bishops are wrong. And, perhaps it’s my own bias, but I think we’re more credible in this case because we live outside the Church walls and have no obligation to agree with their leaders.

I wonder how many Catholics who say they agree with the bishops do so because it’s just what they’re supposed to do. Surely some of them, right? (I can’t prove that. It’s just a hunch. But I would bet on it.)

In any case, it’s a good sign when the most far-right Catholics out there don’t seem to have enough power to deliver more votes for Mitt Romney.

What else are you taking away from this chart?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Jack Harllee

    Polls of necessity tend to be a bit simplistic. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday. I think the question is indeed one of religious liberty, so I get put in the “Agree” column. That’s NOT the end of the story. I also think ordinary employees have a right for their healthcare coverage to include contraceptives. What I see is a clash of two rights. Each side has some merit to its case. Neither side has a monopoly on the truth.

    The two sides ought to have sat down and hashed out a compromise. Didn’t happen. From what I’ve read, neither side is blameless, but the bishops are more at fault. Their position was “my way or the highway.” The high way is having the Supreme Court decide. I hope the bishops lose 100%.

    • Stev84

      No, there aren’t two sides to this. People have religious freedom. Companies aren’t people and therefor can’t have religious freedom. Even if they did, it’s absurd to suggest that their freedom overrides their employees’

    • Guest

      As one who has been asked more than once to take a survey, I can tell you they say almost nothing.  Because, in the end, we are complex people, and tend to take more than a simplistic ‘stars on your belly yes or no’ approach to issues in the way these studies try so hard to frame the debate.  Atheist or religious, liberal or conservative, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person that fits neatly into a media survey sampling.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Obama tried really hard to compromise with the Catholics. That’s where the law requiring that the insurance company involved cover it for free without any action on the employer came from. 

      The Bishops are whining that their freedom is being trampled on because they cannot totally restrict what care their employees get. Compromise was tried; the Bishops want their way. 

  • Annie

    That there are no black Catholics?
     

    • Guest

      A priest at the Catholic Church down the street who looks awefully black will be shocked to hear that, as will several families I know who are Catholic and also black,  as will the millions of Africans who are Catholic.  Move past post-modernity and get your information from sources other than ‘the place where everyone thinks like I do’. 

      • RobMcCune

        Annie probably meant as a category in the statistics from the survey. Maybe you should read the article instead looking for comments to take offense at.

        • Annie

           Yes, RobMcCune- I was responding to the final question in Hemant’s article, “What else are you taking away from this chart?”  I found it strange that they had a section titled “White Catholic”, but lacked a “Black Catholic” section.   I thought the question mark at the end of my above statement made that perfectly clear, so I thank you for noticing. ;-)

          • Keith Collyer

             The maths says there were 120 non-white catholics surveyed (possibly including some who refused to give their colour, I would give mine as “mostly pink”)

  • Zkloock

    i highly disagree with the statement that ” we’re more credible in this case because we live outside the Church walls and have no obligation to agree with their leaders.” Were white people more credible in the civil rights movement because they weren’t the ones whose rights were being threatened? I agree that he church is wrong in this issue, but the idea that our group should be considered more important because we arn’t the ones being offended is ridiculous, especially from the standpoint of atheists, as we often are offended by laws (or rather unconstitutional policies) that no one else has a problem with.

    • ortcutt

       The only group whose rights are being offended are the women who won’t get the same access to birth control because of their employers.  The entire notion that the rights of employers are being violated is simply absurd.  No one is asking Catholic employers to take contraception against their religious beliefs.  The fact that we are even talking about this in terms of religious liberty shows just how deeply religious privilege runs in our society.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Is there any matter of significance where atheists are likely to not oppose Catholic bishops? (I’ll disregard the matter of agnostics, since many Catholics are agnostic.)

    • The LatiNone

      I know two, but they don’t like to promote the issues I’m thinking these days… death penalty and torture. 

      • Guest

        You obviously don’t hang around Catholic websites and similar locations – those two issues have been among the most hotly debated and argued topics in the last 5 years.  The HHS mandate thing just dropped out of the sky a year ago.  Those two things have been going on for some time: the torture issue in light of the US war on terror, and the death penalty for some decades now.

        • Gus Snarp

          Hotly debated and argued by whom? They certainly aren’t strongly promoted by the Church leadership. Mostly it’s the nuns whom the church has sanctioned who are concerned with these issues, along with some Franciscans and maybe some more liberal parish priests. But the bishops aren’t talking about it. I don’t see them having press conferences about how wrong the death penalty is, or war, or torture. I don’t think they could stop the wars, but if the Catholic Church and Catholic lay people donated half as much energy to the death penalty as they do to abortion, birth control, and gay marriage, executions would stop within the year.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Wow. You mean the same organization that invented some of the most gruesome methods of torture ever conceived, and which executed more people than Texas could begin to dream of, is now opposed to both? Maybe… but I bet they’d change their tune if they ever found themselves running a theocracy again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    No Bishop cares about religious freedom, if they did they would not feel entitled to impose their view on “their” flock. They believe in religious obedience.

  • kaydenpat

    I have a good African American friend who is Catholic, but she’s very liberal.  Pro-choice, pro-conception and pro-separation of church and state.  She’s an Obama Maniac.   She would laugh herself silly, if I ever tried to link her being a Catholic to her voting Republican.  She’s quite satisfied with the compromise that President Obama came up with: that it would be the insurance companies. and not Catholic/religious institutions, who would be responsible for letting women know about the contraception benefit.

    Not sure why the Catholic Church is pushing this issue.  If you cannot get the majority of women IN YOUR CHURCH to adhere to your doctrine on contraception, why in the world are you trying to push your views down society’s throat?

  • Agnostic

    This is an anti-Christian site. I have read a number of your articles but have to read anything about the justification for atheism and attack on any other religion besides Christianity. Not that friendly, eh? I would love to read more articles on why you think there is no god. You cannot attack Christianity because of some black sheep. Even Jesus rebuked the religious leaders who believed they had the authority on their religion. I am merely an agnostic who knows no better. As I mentioned in one of my earlier letters I regard both Christianity and atheism to be religions. One worships God and the other Intellect …with a capital I.

  • Agnostic

    To be fair why don’t you do surveys on what atheists think of leaders of other religions. I would suspect that the results will be similar?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625429396 Andrew Kilian

    To be fair Atheists disagree with churches in general to begin with so it’s not a huge leap that they’d disagree with their position on this matter. Of Course, Atheists disagree with the church, that’s what we do.

    What is encouraging to me is how the Protestants (unless they’re Evangelical) disagree as well, just not in overwhelming numbers. Perhaps because it’s another denominations problem or perhaps they really see the necessity of birth control in regards to family planning and alleviating suffering.


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