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WASHINGTON, D.C., October 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — A Pew Research Center survey concludes that Americans support contraception coverage in employee insurance plans but are about evenly divided on supporting same-sex “marriage” and transgender bathrooms.

Critics say the wording of the survey has shifted and not the majority of American opinions.

According to the survey, 67 percent of Americans said employers with sincerely-held religious beliefs on the sanctity of innocent human life must nevertheless provide “birth control” to their employees. Only 30 percent surveyed said employers should be allowed the free exercise of their religious convictions in the public square.

The only demographic groups found in the survey that support employer religious freedom regarding insurance provision were Republicans (51 percent) and white evangelicals (53 percent). 

Ironically, the demographic group with one of the strongest ratios of support against such religious freedom was white mainline Protestants (71 percent to 27 percent). The group with the strongest belief against employee religious freedom was self-identified Democrats (84 percent to 14 percent).

Catholics were overwhelmingly supportive (65 percent to 32 percent) of the ObamaCare mandate for employers that would force Christian businesses to provide coverage not just for contraception but sterilization and abortifacients.

The Pew survey also said Catholics believe government should force businesses to facilitate same-sex weddings or any homosexual event — even if it violates their faith (54 percent to 43 percent). Catholics were basically split on biological gender-separated bathrooms (50 percent to 47 percent).

Overall, survey respondents were evenly divided on support for the federal government to force Christian businesses to participate in gay marriages (49 percent to 48 percent — a statistical dead heat). Basically, the same division exists for transgender bathrooms (51 percent support compared with 47 percent who want gender-separated bathrooms).

Critics say at least part of the issue is the wording of the Pew poll.

“Subtle changes in wording can make a dramatic difference in outcome,” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies for the Family Research Council (FRC), told LifeSiteNews. “In the case of this poll, I think they made several errors that may distort their findings in terms of how people feel about the actual issues that are in contention.”

Transgender Bathrooms?

The pro-marriage and family leader then went into specifics regarding the transgender bathroom portion of the Pew poll. “Pew asked if respondents believe that transgender people should be ‘allowed to use the public restrooms of the gender with which they currently identify,’ or, if they should be ‘required to use the public restrooms of the gender they born into.'”

“I think there is an innate libertarian strain in Americans that makes them tend to favor policies where people are ‘allowed to’ do what they want over policies where they are ‘required to’ do something they don’t want,” Sprigg reasoned. 

“Pew failed to accurately describe the source and nature of the greater coercion on this issue: For most of our history, owners of private buildings have been ‘allowed to’ set whatever policy they wanted with regard to assignment of sex-separated facilities, and for the most part, they have addressed the question of persons who identify as transgender on a case-by-case basis, rather than ‘requiring’ a one-size-fits-all solution.”

“It is liberals who have upset this long-standing equilibrium by demanding laws which force the managers of public facilities and schools (and private property owners who operate private businesses considered ‘public accommodations’) to adopt pro-transgender policies, and to actively punish (for ‘discrimination’) anyone who questions transgender persons,” Sprigg said.

“This is what Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance did,” Sprigg explained, “whereas the North Carolina legislature overturning the Charlotte ordinance freed private businesses from government coercion regarding bathroom policies while imposing a ‘birth certificate’ sex limitation only for facilities in government-owned buildings.”

“Second, some have downplayed the significance of gender identity policies by focusing only on restrooms. Yet gender identity non-discrimination laws apply with equal force to facilities in which appearing completely unclothed is either inevitable (such as showers) or highly likely (such as locker rooms),” Sprigg pointed out.

“By not mentioning these types of facilities — or the little-understood fact that many transgender people have not had any sex reassignment surgery to alter their original anatomy — the poll may have understated the privacy and safety concerns raised by gender identity policies,” Sprigg concluded.

Other opinion polls are worded more clearly and therefore offer a more accurate gauge of the opinions of Americans, Sprigg argued. 

Indeed, a Wilson Perkins Allen (WPA) Opinion Research poll just reported in July by FRC found 66 percent of Americans, including 46 percent of Democrats, “oppose” or “strongly oppose” (52 percent) our “government forcing schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations to open the showers, changing facilities, locker rooms, and bathrooms designated for women and girls, to biological males and vice versa.”

With that full disclosure, the WPA study found much different results than the Pew poll, with only 28 percent saying they approve transgender facilities.

After pointing out that North Carolina’s separation of bathrooms to birth gender applies only to government-owned buildings,  Sprigg noted that transgenders are actually not “required” to use the facility of their birth sex at all because the state’s ordinance “explicitly authorizes the creation and use of single-user facilities” for anyone, including transgenders, to have complete privacy. 

“I see this type of policy as a generous accommodation which protects the privacy and safety of both transgender persons and those who are not transgender,” Sprigg commented. “If this type of accommodation or compromise were included in the poll question, I suspect it would draw substantial support.”

Christian businesses facilitating gay weddings?

Sprigg then addressed the Pew poll’s religious freedom question about whether the federal government should force Christian businesses to cater homosexual celebrations. 

“While Pew did ask if wedding businesses should be ‘required to provide’ their services to same-sex couples,” Sprigg said, “they did not explicitly ask if they should be ‘required by the government’ to provide them and actively punished by the government if they respectfully decline.”

Asking about the issue including state coercion and penalties for non-compliance leads to much different results, Sprigg pointed out. This was demonstrated by a major study by former Jimmy Carter pollster Patrick Caddell last year in which participants were asked whether “the federal and state government should be able to require by law a private citizen to provide a service or their property for an event that is contrary to their religious beliefs.”

In the Caddell survey, “only 18 percent agreed that government should have such power, while 68 percent disagreed,” Sprigg said. The aforementioned WPA Research survey agreed, finding 81 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “Government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.”

But Sprigg wasn’t through noting the weaknesses and fallacies in the Pew poll. “Polls that ask questions based on the actual circumstances in which these laws are employed also come up with a very different result,” he explained. “For example, the Caddell poll asked the following specific question: ‘Suppose a Christian wedding photographer has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. If a same-sex couple wanted to hire the photographer for their wedding, should the photographer have the right to say no?’”

“A whopping 82 percent said ‘Yes,’ that the photographer should have the right to decline the job.”

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Sprigg also noted a subtle bias in the Pew poll by referring to religious opposition to same-sex “marriage” as “objections to homosexuality.” “They are not identical,” Sprigg said, noting that as recently as 2012, “even most Democratic politicians opposed redefining marriage, although most of them raised no ‘objections to homosexuality’ as such.”

Sprigg concluded that if poll questions regarding religious freedom were worded positively, Americans tend to respond positively. “If the Pew poll had instead attributed to business owners ‘religious beliefs that marriage should be defined only as the union of one man and one woman,’ more respondents might have identified with the business owner’s position and supported it,” he said.

“While polls like the Pew poll may appear to suggest the American public is split ‘50-50’ on some of these issues, I think the data on positions held “strongly” suggest the real split is more like one-third to one-third to one-third,” Sprigg assessed.  “That is, about one-third of Americans have an ideological commitment in support of the LGBT movement;  about one-third remain solidly in support of pro-family values and about one-third are either confused, uninformed, or easily swayed by misleading mainstream media coverage.”

“We at Family Research Council will continue to do all we can to educate that one-third in the middle regarding the truth about these issues,” Sprigg concluded.