Thursday, January 14, 2021

Measuring Church Attendance: Phone Calls vs. Online Surveys

Many national surveys are done via telephone, with the responded answering questions verbally through the phone when asked a specific question.  However, over time people have become less likely to answer requests to answer phone-administered surveys.  An alternative is to try online surveys in which the respondent does not interact with another person live but rather just clicks button using an online form.  However, while some people prefer the phone surveys, others prefer the online survey format, and when these people differ in characteristics that also are correlated with religious behavior, then the choice of survey format can lead you to mis-estimate the religiosity of the population.

A report just published by the Pew Research Center discusses some work they have done comparing the responses of different survey formats and then reweighting responses to obtain what should be more accurate overall measures of American religiosity.  See the front page here and the full report here.

They report some key findings:

  • Phone surveys accurately measure religious affiliation, while online surveys underreport affiliation.
  • Phone surveys overstate church attendance rates to a large degree, while online surveys are more accurate, maybe with just a slight understanding of attendance..
  • Phone surveys overstate and online surveys slightly understate the share of the population who think religion is important in their lives.
These findings are not too surprising given that older respondents are generally more religious than younger ones and that the older respondents prefer phone surveys more than the younger ones and the younger ones prefer online surveys more than the older ones.  Reweighting responses is an important aspect of survey methodology that enables researchers to improve the accuracy of their findings.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Top Ten Church-state Developments of 2020

 The Religion Clause blog offers its top church-state developments of 2020.  Not surprising is that the the COVID-19 church attendance limits take the top spot in the list.

California COVID Church Attendance Restrictions Upheld Again

In late November, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of New York could not enforce limits on church attendance because of COVID-19 (see here).  Many observers wondered what would be the effect of this ruling for states that did have attendance limits in place.  We found out last week that it will not affect the church attendance limits in California.  See here and here.

The court ruled that California's limits were "neutral" because they allowed for churches to meet without attendance limits as long as those meetings are outdoors.  In other words, California's policy is not as restrictive as New York's, and Californian's can still fully worship outside.  Thus, Californians are not severely impacted by their state's policy.

Again, we must stay tuned to see if there are further developments.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Blasphemy Laws Around the World

Yesterday the USCIRF released a report on blasphemy laws around the world.  Read the summary of the report here.  The summary page also has a nice map showing how the countries with blasphemy laws are distributed around the world.  For those who are interested, you can read the full pdf report here.

The summary page lists several key findings.  A few of them are:

  • 84 countries currently have blasphemy laws.
  • From 2014-2018 there were 732 reported blasphemy cases, and 674 of them were considered criminal blasphemy.
  • Most of the cases are in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, with over 80% of the state-enforced cases were in just ten countries.  Pakistan had the most (over 175), but others in order starting with the most cases were Iran, Russia, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Yemen, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
  • Over half of the accused were Muslims (56%), and the other accused came from various groups, including Christians (25%), Atheists (7%), Baha'is (7%), and Hindus (3%).

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Supreme Court Prevents New York from Enforcing Limits on Church Attendance

On 25 November 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of New York could not limit church and synagogue attendance.  Read this article at the Religion News Service.

We have been tracking developments on government restrictions on church attendance since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and you can browse several past blog posts if you are interested (hereherehere, here, here).  This ruling differs from the previous court rulings and reflects a recent shift in the ideological make-up of the Supreme Court.

The judges in the majority argued that places of worship, even in areas very hard hit by Covid-19, had been singled out for attendance restrictions and that the New York regulations were harsher on religious groups than on other organizations, such as grocery stores and pet shops.  If you are interested in the legal arguments, you can see the post at Religion Clause.

How this ruling affects government restrictions on religious gatherings in other states remains to be seen.  Current state guidelines in California allow for different types and sizes of religious gatherings depending on what "tier" of Covid-19 outbreak is experienced within the county.  Orange County has "widespread" outbreak, so it is currently in the "purple" tier which has the most restrictions.  Churches are allowed to meet "outdoor only with modifications."  You can see the different restrictions by tiers on state government web site here (scroll down to the link for "Places of worship and cultural ceremonies."

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A New Methodist Denomination?

Over the last several years, the United Methodist Church has experienced internal debates about the ordination of LGTBQ clergy and same-sex marriage.  Back in January, leaders of the church decided on a plan that would have a final vote later in 2020 that would finally split the denomination.  You can read about this in an earlier post here.

But then the Covid-19 pandemic happened, and the plans were put on hold.  After some delay, some people in the UMC have grown tired of waiting for the disputes to be resolved and have now formed their own, new denomination called the Liberation Methodist Connexion (LMX).  Read this RNS article about the split.  You can also view the new denomination's website here.

The group has not revealed how many "members" it has as affiliates.  In fact, I could not find anywhere on its website where it refers to itself as a denomination, although the article calls it a denomination. According to the RNS article, members of this new group are not expected to leave their existing denomination when joining.  The LMX Facebook page refers to itself as a "grassroots collective." So whether this group should be called a denomination is unclear to me.  Nonetheless, as with any new group, its founding members are very excited about their activities and are eager to gain supporters.

Time will tell whether or not LMX will gain enough support to survive over time and whether or not an eventual split in the UMC will help or hurt them.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses Around the World

The United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which is an organization created by the U.S. government in 1998 to monitor religious freedom around the world, just released a short report on the rise of state persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses around the world.  Access the 8-page report here.

As you read this report, consider the following questions.  In which countries are Jehovah's Witnesses targeted?  What is it about the Jehovah's Witnesses that makes them targets of persecution?  What type of persecution do Jehovah's Witnesses suffer?

This blog post is written just a day after a related post about the Pew Research Center's work that shows religious restrictions continue to rise around the world.  This USCIRF report provides a closer look at how one particular religious group's experience forms a part of the larger trend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Religious Restrictions Around the World in 2018

 According to new results published earlier today by the Pew Research Center, religious restrictions increased around the world from 2017 to 2018.  Read the entire main page for the published report.   If you are interested, you can browse the full report here.

The main finding is that the median level of restrictions increased around the world from 2017 to 2018.  This continues a steady increase in restrictions around the world since 2007, which is the first year that the Pew Research Center began tracking.  They use a Government Restrictions Index (GRI) that rates each country on a 10-point scale.

The largest increases in restrictions from 2017-2018 occurred in Asia and the Pacific, while the region with the highest overall average restrictions continues to be the Middle East and North Africa.  In fact, in many countries in the Middle East and Africa, there were incidents in which force was used by the government against religious groups.

As you read the main page, consider the following questions:  What kinds of restrictions are experienced?  Which countries have the highest restrictions?  Are restrictions more common with certain types of government regimes than with others?

And if  you are really interested, guess whether you think the USA has "very high," "high," "moderate," or "low" GRI, and check out where they classify USA in Appendix A.  Are you surprised?