Constitution Mandates Church-State Separation, Says Poll

A study released in July by the First Amendment Center found that two-thirds of Americans believe that the Constitution mandates a separation between church and state.

When asked whether “the First Amendment requires a clear separation of church and state,” 67 percent of respondents said yes (with 48 percent “strongly” agreeing). Only 28 percent disagreed (with 17 percent saying they “strongly” disagree).

The survey also found that most Americans support broadly based religious freedom. It asked, “Do you feel that the freedom to worship as one chooses applies to all religious groups regardless of how extreme their views are, or was it never meant to apply to religious groups that most people would consider extreme or fringe?” Two-thirds of Americans said that religious liberty applies to everyone.

Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., hailed the results.

“This is somewhat surprising,” Haynes said, “given the decades-old culture-war fight over the meaning and scope of separation. For decades now, Christian-nation advocates have tried to convince Americans that ‘separation of church and state isn’t in the First Amendment.’ They have peddled a revisionist account of a ‘Christian America’ that should (at best) tolerate other faiths to reside here.

“Apparently,” Haynes said, “the American people aren’t buying the propaganda. It’s true that the actual words ‘separation of church and state’ aren’t in the Constitution. But as the majority of Americans understand, the principle of separation clearly is.”