Nebraskans weigh in on religious freedom laws

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LINCOLN, Neb. – New research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln indicates that most Nebraskans - 64 percent of nearly 1,100 survey respondents - oppose laws that would deny service to the LGBT community. The results mirror national polls that have shown religious freedom laws lack broad support among Americans.

"People who support religious laws tend to focus on the rights of business owners that need to be protected, but on the other side, people who oppose these laws also focus on rights but the focus is on the rights of gay and lesbians to be free from discrimination," said Kelsy Burke, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Sociologists Emily Kazyak and Kelsy Burke analyzed responses to why Nebraskans support or oppose a business owner's right to refuse service to gays and lesbians to gain insight into why these laws continue to gain traction in state legislatures even though most Americans don't actually agree with them. Mathew Stange, who received his doctoral degree in survey research and methodology at Nebraska and is now a survey researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, also participated in the study.

Butterfly Bakery told 10/11 they will not stand for laws or beliefs that would treat someone unequal. They also said they've always treated everyone the same who goes in for a wedding cake.

"We do gay and lesbian weddings and we do straight weddings, they're all exactly the same, we treat everyone the same," said Katie O'conner, Manager at Butterfly Bakery.

The researchers noted that as LGBTQ people have gained acceptance and visibility, conservative Christians have begun to portray themselves as a group under threat.

"Protestant Christians have always been the dominant religious group in America, yet evangelical Protestant legislators are now leading efforts to pass these religious freedom laws," Burke said. "They are thus sending a clear message that they believe their religious beliefs are under threat."

The study was based on data collected by the 2015 Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey (NASIS). NASIS is an annual cross-sectional omnibus survey of Nebraskans 19 and older, conducted by the Bureau of Sociological Research at Nebraska. Findings were published online Feb. 28 in Socius, a research journal of the American Sociological Association.