Metro Weekly

Support for anti-LGBTQ religious discrimination is on the rise, survey says

An increasing number of Americans support denying services based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and race

A new survey has found that the number of Americans who support allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people is on the rise.

According to a poll by Public Religion Research Institute, an ever-increasing number of Americans believe that small business owners have the right to refuse to provide goods or services to minority groups based on the owners’ religious beliefs.

The poll, conducted via telephone interviews between April 9 to April 20, found that the largest jump in favor of religious-based refusals occurred in relation to gays and lesbians, with support for such refusals jumping from 16% in 2014 to 30% now.

Transgender people were not included as an option five years ago, but 29% of Americans believe that business owners have a right to deny service to transgender people based on their religious beliefs.

However, despite those rises, 67% of Americans say that small businesses should not have the right to deny service to gay or lesbian people if they open themselves up to the public. A similar 68% of people say the same for prospective customers who are transgender.

Smaller, but similar increases were seen in the number of people who feel they should be able to claim a religious exemption to serving someone based on their race or religion, with the number of people saying they wish not to serve atheists rising from 15% to 24%, those wishing not to serve Jews rising from 12% to 19%, and those wishing not to serve African-Americans rising from 10% to 15% over the past five years.

Questions were not asked about Muslims five years ago, but 22% of Americans feel they are justified in denying services to Muslim individuals.

“A small but increasing number of Americans think it should be permissible to turn away customers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or race,” notes PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones. “While legislative agendas and the media has mostly focused on such policies in relationship to the LGBTQ community, this survey indicates that these sentiments about religiously based service refusals extend to other minority groups such as atheists, Muslims, Jews, and African Americans.”

The survey finds that while Americans of all stripes have become more favorable toward religiously-based refusals, support among Republicans has more than doubled from five years ago, with those supporting denying service to gays and lesbians rising from 21% to 47%.

Increases among Democrats and independents were more modest, rising from 11% to 18% among the former group, and 16% to 24% among the latter.

Republicans were also more likely to support religiously-based refusals for atheists, Muslims, Jews, and African-Americans than their Democratic or independent peers.

While Democrats typically lag behind independents in their support for such refusals, they lead independents (though still behind Republicans) when it comes to dealing with Jewish or African-American customers.

Differences also exist among religious groups. For example, 42% of white evangelical Protestants and 37% of white mainline Protestants believe businesses should have the right to refuse service to gays or lesbians, while only 28% of Catholics, 26% of nonwhite Protestants, and 22% of those who are religiously unaffiliated agree.

When it comes to serving transgender people, 39% of white mainline Protestants believe religiously-based refusals are in order, compared to 38% of white evangelical Protestants, 22% of nonwhite Protestants, 27% of Catholics, and 23% of unaffiliated Americans.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at

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