Perceptions of whether certain situations are legal in the U.S. today…

Study finds widespread disagreement over what is legal

and not legal regarding religion, morality, and public life

(Original release date:  December 6, 2007)  Study results released from Grey Matter Research & Consulting (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona show Americans rarely agree about what is legal or not legal when it comes to religion and morality in the public arena.

 

The study presented a number of scenarios to people, and asked whether each one is currently legal, not legal, or a grey area still being decided in the courts.  The scenarios included things such as nativity displays on city property, public school teachers wearing religious symbols, and displays of the Ten Commandments inside court buildings.

 

The findings are from a study independently designed and conducted by Grey Matter Research among a representative sample of 1,007 American adults.  The sample is balanced by gender, age, income, race, and geography.

 

Out of nine different scenarios, only three show a majority of Americans agreeing about the legality:

 

· A public school teacher wearing a religious symbol such as a cross or a Star of David during class time (58% believe this is legal, 22% feel this is not legal, and 20% call it a grey area still being decided)

· Religious groups renting public property, such as a public school gym or a library room, for meetings if non-religious groups are allowed to do so (72% legal, 9% not legal, 19% a grey area)

· A landlord refusing to rent an apartment to a homosexual couple (9% legal, 77% not legal, 13% a grey area)

 

The other six scenarios show widespread disagreement.  Thirty-eight percent of all Americans believe the display of a nativity scene on city property (such as a city hall) during Christmas is legal, while 32% say this is currently not legal, and 30% feel it’s a grey area still being decided in the courts.  Similarly, 26% feel the display of a scene honoring Islam on city property during Ramadan is legal, while 39% believe this is not legal, and 35% feel it’s a grey area.

 

Half believe a public school teacher permitting a “moment of silence” for prayer or contemplation for all students during class time is currently legal, while 29% say this is not legal, and 22% see it as a grey area.  The numbers are very similar for voluntary student-led prayers at public school events, such as football games or graduation ceremonies (49% call this legal, 27% feel it is not legal, and 24% see it as a grey area).

 

Only 26% believe it is legal to display a copy of the Ten Commandments inside a court building, while 45% feel this is not legal, and 30% feel this is a grey area.

 

Finally, just 26% believe it is currently legal for a religious club in a high school or university to determine for itself who can be in their membership, even if certain types of people are excluded.  Forty-eight percent feel this is not legal, and 26% see it as a grey area still being decided.

 

The study shows very little difference in opinion according to things such as demographics (income, race, etc.), region of the country, religious beliefs, or political perspectives.  In general, people who are very religious, those who are entirely irreligious, liberals, conservatives, and other types of Americans are about equally confused and/or in disagreement on these issues.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that the attention given to some of these issues is probably contributing to the confusion.  “Some of the scenarios we presented to people in the research have gotten a lot of attention recently,” Sellers noted.  “Many of these scenarios represent controversial issues.  You have one side strongly insisting that city hall displaying a nativity scene is a good thing, and another side loudly promoting their view that it’s not.  People apparently are getting confused as to just where many of these things stand.”

 

Sellers also found it interesting that there weren’t individual types of people who feel more sure of what’s legal or not legal in today’s world.  “It’s not as though liberals are all in agreement that a particular scenario is legal while conservatives believe it to be illegal, for example.  Highly religious people didn’t insist it’s legal to display a nativity scene on city property while the irreligious disagreed.  People from all political perspectives, religious beliefs, parts of the country, and demographic groups do not have an understanding of what’s legal and not legal when it comes to religion and public life.”

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,007 adults is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states.  Respondents’ age, household income, geography, racial or ethnic background, and gender were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

We in America do not have government by the majority.  We

have government by the majority who participate.

Thomas Jefferson

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Perceptions of what is legal, by age…

 

 

Situations

Believe

This Is

Legal

Believe

This Is

not Legal

Believe It’s a

Grey Area Still Being Decided

The display of a nativity scene on city property, such as a city hall, during Christmas

38%

32%

30%

The display of a scene honoring Islam on city property,

   such as a city hall, during Ramadan (a Muslim holiday)

 

26

 

39

 

35

A public school teacher wearing a religious symbol

   such as a cross or a Star of David during class time

 

58

 

22

 

20

The display of a copy of the Ten Commandments inside a court building

26

45

30

A landlord refusing to rent an apartment to a homosexual couple

9

77

13

A public school teacher permitting a “moment of silence” for

   prayer or contemplation for all students during class time

 

50

 

29

 

22

Religious groups renting public property, such as a public school gym

   or a library room, for meetings if non-religious groups are allowed to do so

 

72

 

9

 

19

Voluntary student-led prayers at public school events,

   such as football games or graduation ceremonies

 

49

 

27

 

24

A religious club in a high school or university determining for itself who

   can be in their membership, even if certain types of people are excluded

 

26

 

48

 

26

Situations

Age <35

Age 35 – 54

Age 55+

The display of a nativity scene on city property, such as a city hall, during Christmas

48%

39%

30%

The display of a scene honoring Islam on city property,

   such as a city hall, during Ramadan (a Muslim holiday)

 

40

 

23

 

20

A public school teacher wearing a religious symbol

   such as a cross or a Star of David during class time

 

62

 

58

 

56

The display of a copy of the Ten Commandments inside a court building

34

27

20

A landlord refusing to rent an apartment to a homosexual couple

14

9

7

A public school teacher permitting a “moment of silence” for

   prayer or contemplation for all students during class time

 

56

 

46

 

50

Religious groups renting public property, such as a public school gym

   or a library room, for meetings if non-religious groups are allowed to do so

 

72

 

71

 

74

Voluntary student-led prayers at public school events,

   such as football games or graduation ceremonies

 

63

 

47

 

42

A religious club in a high school or university determining for itself who

   can be in their membership, even if certain types of people are excluded

 

29

 

25

 

24