The Catholic Voices Blog
The American Values Survey and the Catholic vote
The Public Religion Research Institute released its American Values Survey today, focusing in particular on how Catholics and those without a religious affiliation will impact the election. The survey finds that religion and politics are inextricably intertwined, with religiously affiliated Americans much more likely to vote than those with no particular religion. That's no surprise: religion and politics are both concerned with questions of the common good, and religious organizations are an integral part of American civil society. Religious believers can't wall off their beliefs when considering public issues, nor should they.
Regarding religious liberty, the survey finds that almost six in ten Americans, and a similar number of Catholics, believe that religious liberty is under threat. Yet the survey also found that "the belief that religious liberty is under threat does not directly translate into opposition to the contraception coverage rule." What gives?
Here's one possible explanation. Those who conducted the survey first wrongly reinforced the tired paradigm that pits "pro-life" and "social justice" Catholics against each other by asking what the Catholic Church should emphasize in its statements about public policy, "social justice and the obligation to help the poor", or "issues like abortion and the right to life" -- as if those were mutually exclusive options. In their analysis of the results, E.J. Dionne and William A. Galston, two co-authors of the report, note that
On the one hand, Catholics who attend Mass regularly are strongly opposed to abortion. But when asked if the Church’s public witness should concentrate primarily on abortion or on social justice, Catholics – including those who regularly attend Church – strongly favor giving priority to the Church’s social justice tradition.
It remains unclear why Catholics should have to choose between two teachings that both lie at the heart of our faith. And it's no surprise that in-the-pews Catholics care about the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless; it's that belief that animates our desire to stand up for the unborn and to press for a robust conception of religious freedom. After all, opposition to the HHS mandate isn't simply about preserving some abstract conception of religious liberty. It's about protecting those who will be hit hardest by the fines the mandate imposes: the poor and those who serve them.
Had the survey asked about the mandate in this context rather than framing it as a contraception issue, it's likely the results would have tracked more closely to its general religious liberty finding. In-the-pews Catholics want to stand with the least among us wherever we find them, and we know that our first freedom ensures our ability to do so.
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