The Pew Research Center has released a major new poll on church-state separation, and one thing is clear: Americans support the separation of religion and government – except for a stubborn minority that would be only too happy to scrap that constitutional principle entirely.
Pew reports that 55% of Americans are considered to be either “strong” or “moderate” supporters of church-state separation (28% strong, 27% moderate). 18% fall into a “mixed” category, meaning they sometimes back a church-state separation position but just as often do not, depending on the issue. Pew says that 14% of Americans are “integrationists” – that is, they favor little or no separation of church and state. The remaining 12% had no opinion.
Here are some other highlights from the poll. Note that the numbers don’t add up to 100 because some respondents said they had no opinion:
* 54% agree that the federal government should enforce separation of church and state, while 19% said the government should stop enforcing it.
* Americans reject the idea that the Constitution was inspired by God. 67% say it was written by humans and does not reflect God’s vision. 18% disagree, saying that the Constitution reflects God’s vision for America.
* Asked if the federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation, just 15% said it should. 69% said the federal government should never declare any religion as the official religion of the United States.
* Pew also asked if the federal government should advocate Christian values. 13% said it should, but 63% backed the idea of the government promoting the moral values shared by people of many faiths.
* Only 5% believe God favors the United States over other countries. 70% say God does not favor any one country over others.
* On specific church-state issues, support for church-state separation remains decent, but we see some erosion of support for the separationist position. 39% of respondents said they believe cities and towns should be allowed to display religious symbols on public property. 30% would allow public school teachers to lead students in Christian prayers – two generations after the Supreme Court decided that enforced prayer in public schools is unconstitutional.
The poll breaks down respondents by religious, racial and political categories. Support for church-state separation is generally healthy across categories, but, not surprisingly, white evangelicals expressed the highest support for church-state integration (36%). Republicans are much more likely to support church-state integration than Democrats.
Pew also reports, “Support for separation of church and state is slightly higher among men than women; women are more likely than men to be in the ‘no opinion’ category. College graduates are far more supportive of church-state separation than are those with lower levels of education. Similarly, young adults (ages 18 to 29) are more likely than their elders to consistently favor the separation of church and state. Support for separation of church and state is lower in the South than in other parts of the country. Still, even in the South, fewer than one-in-five people consistently express a desire for the integration of church and state.”
This survey presents a lot to unpack, but in general, the results are positive and confirm what we at Americans United have long known: The extremists who oppose us make a lot of noise, but their views are way out of step with most Americans.