The Separation of Church and State

‘Nones’ have eclipsed every religious group in America. What does this mean for separation of church and state?

  Rob Boston

A new study indicates that the largest religious group in America isn’t really a religious group at all – it’s “nones.”

Nones are people who, when asked to state their religious beliefs, reply, “Nothing in particular.” While some identify as atheist/agnostic/humanist, most have some sort of spiritual belief, which they explore outside the boundaries of houses of worship.

Pew Research reported recently that Nones account for 28% of all Americans. They outnumber Roman Catholics (21%), born-again or evangelical Protestants (24%) and non-evangelical Protestants (16%).

Nones and church-state separation

Statistics like this are interesting, but what do they have to do with separation of church and state? They’re relevant for a few reasons.

First off, the rise of the Nones is proof that our First Amendment is doing exactly what it was intended to do – give Americans the choice to be religious or not as they see fit. Religious freedom, nurtured by the protective wall of separation between church and state, gives us the right to explore spirituality within the confines of a house of worship or do it ourselves. It gives us the right to blend traditions, explore theology or reject faith entirely.

Nones have grown in recent years, but they’ve always been with us. Asked to explain his religious beliefs. Thomas Jefferson remarked, “I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.” Was Jefferson an early None? It sure sounds like it. Today, millions of Americans are taking that spirit and running with it.

Challenging Christian Nationalism

Secondly, the rise of the Nones infuriates Christian Nationalists, who remain convinced that everyone should attend a church (one approved by them, of course). They have good reason to worry: Pew reports that Nones are more liberal politically and more committed to democracy than other groups. This makes them uniquely positioned to challenge Christian Nationalism if they choose to do it. While Pew also found that many Nones aren’t as politically engaged as other groups, there is definitely some untapped power there.

Finally, the rise of a less churched, more secular nation means that the government will have to stop relying on religious bodies to provide various social services, largely because there will be fewer of them to do the work. “Faith-based” initiatives are popular in America despite the church-state problems they present. In the future, this approach may be less viable. Smart politicians will start addressing this issue now.

Despite what Christian Nationalists say, America’s founders never intended for this country to be officially Christian. They built a nation where you’re free to be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc. They created a country where, when it comes to religion, you’re free to question, to doubt, to debate and to change your mind.

Separation of church and state gave us that proud legacy. That principle works for Nones and everyone else – and we would no longer be America without it.

That’s why Americans United, with your help, works constantly to protect it.

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