The First Amendment Center recently published its annual survey of the ” state of the First Amendment .” I wish I could say that I was heartened by all the findings, but I’m not. Consider these results:


  • Only 10 percent of the respondents stated that freedom of religion was the most important freedom Americans enjoyed, far below the 47 percent who gave that honor to freedom of speech.

  • 36 percent of the respondents couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment; only 24 percent knew that freedom of religion was one of them.

  • The percentage of respondents who think the First Amendment goes too far in protecting rights has increased this year (to 34 percent, still far below the 64 percent who say it doesn’t); younger respondents are much more likely to say that it does (47 percent of 18-30 year olds and 44 percent of 31-45 year olds); and 52 percent of African-Americans, as well as 50 percent of Hispanics, say the First Amendment goes too far.

  • 62 percent of the respondents believe that if a religious organization receives federal funds, it can be required by the government to provide healthcare benefits to employees in same-sex relationships, even if the organization doesn’t support same-sex relationships. Younger respondents are more likely to agree with this proposition than are their older counterparts.

  • 52 percent of the respondents agreed that a business providing wedding services should be required to serve same-sex couples, even if the proprietor has religious objections to same-sex marriage.


Clearly we have not made a compelling case for the importance of religious freedom, especially among younger people and minorities. This is a problem both in education (where I suspect too many teachers simply steer clear of any topic that bears on religion) and in our popular culture. It seems to me that virtually no one is effectively making the case for the religious component of pluralism. We’re all about diversity in race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (all of which, we think, deserve the special solicitude of government). But we don’t recognize how our love of equality and uniformity is at war with other kinds of diversity and pluralism, especially when we believe that government programs ought to be homogenizing, rather than respectful of the liberty necessary to foster less visible kinds of pluralism and diversity.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

Loading...

Show 0 comments