Majority of Americans say freedom of religion should be protected; Christianity gets highest mark at 82%

Demonstrators gather at Monument Circle in Indianapolis to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence.Reuters

Majority of Americans said it's important to protect freedom of religion for different religious groups, with Christianity getting the highest mark.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, conducted among 1,042 adults in 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia from Dec. 10-13, showed that 82 percent of those surveyed said it's very or extremely important that Christians are allowed to practice their religion, compared to just 61 percent for Muslims.

Another 80 percent said it is important for people like them to be able to practice their religion freely; 72 percent agreed for Jews; and 67 percent for Mormons.

Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, said the survey results indicate that there is deep divisions among Americans on the definition of religious liberty.

"Religious freedom is now in the eye of the beholder. People in different traditions, with different ideological commitments, define religious freedom differently," he was quoted in an Associated Press report.

In the same poll, majority of Americans said the government is doing a very good or somewhat good job protecting the right to vote (70 percent), freedom of speech (59 percent), freedom of religion (55 percent), and freedom of the press (58 percent).

But they are less positive about the government's efforts in protecting the right of everyone to equal protection under the law (40 percent), the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure (40 percent), and the right to keep and bear arms (38 percent).

A total of 54 percent of Americans said it can be necessary for the U.S. government to sacrifice freedoms to fight terrorism while 45 percent disagreed.

About half of Americans said it is acceptable to allow warrantless government analysis of Internet activities and communications, even of Americans, to keep an eye on suspicious activity.

In the aftermath of the Paris and California terrorist attacks, 20 percent of Americans said they are concerned that they or a family member could be a victim of a terrorist attack, up from 10 percent in the AP-NORC poll in 2013.

The poll also showed that there is no public consensus on whether it is important for the government to ensure citizens' safety or to protect citizens' rights. A total of 42 percent of Americans said security is more important; 31 percent said rights and security are equally important; and 27 percent said rights are more important.