September 28, 2016

Where the Public Stands on Religious Liberty vs. Nondiscrimination

1. Most say birth control should be covered by employers, regardless of religious objections

While most Americans say employers should be required to provide birth control coverage in employee health insurance plans – even if business owners have religious objections – views on this matter vary considerably by religious participation and affiliation.

Americans who report attending religious services on a weekly basis are closely divided over whether employers who have religious objections to the use of birth control should be required to provide it in health insurance plans for their employees (49%) or whether they should be able to refuse to provide it (46%). Among those who attend religious services less often, three-quarters say employers should be required to provide contraception coverage.

There are large differences by frequency of church attendance within religious groups as well. Roughly six-in-ten white evangelical Protestants who say they attend church weekly (62%) say employers should be able to refuse to provide birth control, while only a third say employers should be required to provide it. But among white evangelicals who report attending religious services less often, opinion on this question is more closely divided. There are also differences among Catholics: While Catholics who attend Mass weekly are split in their views on this question, most Catholics who attend Mass less often (72%) think contraception coverage should be required.

Across a variety of demographic categories, majorities of Americans say employers should be required to provide birth control in employee health insurance plans, even if the employer has religious objections to the use of birth control. An even larger majority of women (72%) than men (62%) hold this view. And U.S. adults under age 30 are more likely than older Americans to say employers should be required to cover contraception, though majorities in all age groups agree.

When asked how much, if at all, they may sympathize with either viewpoint, more Americans express sympathy for one side or the other than say that they can see both sides of the matter. Black Protestants are the only major religious group with as many people who say they sympathize with both sides (38%) as say they sympathize either only with those who think birth control coverage should be required (28%) or with those who say employers should be able to refuse contraception coverage (8%).

Among Americans who favor requiring employers to provide birth control, only one-in-five say they can also sympathize with the opinion that employers with religious objections should be able to refuse to provide it. And among those who think employers should be able to refuse contraception coverage, roughly a quarter (27%) say they can also sympathize with the opposite perspective.