Most oppose giving business owners right to discriminate against LGBT customers

April 09, 2015, 8:30 PM GMT+0

Half of Americans think that business owners should be able to refuse service in most cases, except when it comes to certain groups like LGBT customers

Americans think business owners should have the right to refuse service to anyone and for any reason – but there are clearly limits.  Most Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll – religious or not – think business owners should not have the right to refuse service to gays and lesbians even if those owners have “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Those who describe themselves as “very religious” are more likely to answer positively to both of those questions and say owners with sincerely held religious beliefs should be able to refuse service.  But the pattern is the same:  by 58% to 31%, the most religious say business owners should be able to refuse service to anyone for any reason, but only a third say business owners with “sincerely held” religious beliefs should be able to refuse service to gays and lesbians. 

The recent attempts in Indiana and Arkansas to allow those with sincerely held religious beliefs to show those beliefs in their business are thought of mainly as well-intentioned attempts to protect religious freedom (45%), as opposed to disguised attempts to permit discrimination (35%).   The debate over those proposed laws centered on the possibility of discrimination against gays and lesbians.  From the majority’s point of view, ending discrimination is a more important goal than protecting religious liberty, although Republicans and those who are very religious disagree.

Democrats see discrimination as the goal of those two states’ religious freedom legislation. 

There is one kind of group that most people would refuse to hire and refuse to serve: members of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.  59% say owner should be able to refuse to hire them, and by 49% to 39%, the public thinks it’s fine for business owners to refuse to serve them. 

In contrast, there is almost no support for refusing to serve someone of a different race, or for refusing to hire someone of a different religion – even if the business owner has sincerely-help religious beliefs.  That is true for both the public overall and for those who say they are personally very religious.

Only 7% of the very religious and the overall public support a business owner’s right to require employees to attend religious services. 

There is another area which has been in the news where the most religious Americans differ from the overall public when it comes to the rights of business owners.  Those who are very religious support the Hobby Lobby and some other religious groups’ demands to allow business owners the right to refuse to include contraceptives in an employee’s health care plan.  This is something the public opposes, but the very religious approve.  Republicans also approve, and by an ever wider margin. 

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.