The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted by the results of a new Pew Research Center poll showing that Americans overwhelmingly support the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.
The poll is the first of its kind and confirms what FFRF has been saying for decades: Americans want their elected representatives to leave private religious beliefs out of official government actions. A majority of Americans (54 percent) think the United States should enforce state/church separation, and a strong majority (69 percent) believe the federal government should never adopt an official state religion.
Additionally, 63 percent believe the federal government should advocate “moral values shared by people of many faiths” rather than Christian values. Likewise, 69 percent indicate that the U.S. Constitution was written by humans and reflects their vision, “not necessarily God’s vision,” compared to only 18 percent who believe it was “inspired by God [and] reflects God’s vision for America.” Pew points out that “even among white evangelical Protestants and highly religious Christians, fewer than half say the U.S. should abandon its adherence to the separation of church and state or declare the country a Christian nation.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor applauds the findings.
“The Founders adopted the first godless Constitution in history, barring religious tests from government and establishing no official religion,” she points out. “They understood that true freedom of religion requires a government free from religion. It’s wonderful that most Americans agree with this fundamental concept.”
Despite the generally favorable attitudes, the survey reveals a need for greater education on specific topics. A plurality (39 percent) thinks local governments should be allowed to place religious symbols on public property (35 percent oppose and 26 percent have no opinion). As many as 30 percent of respondents think public school teachers should be allowed to lead students in sectarian prayers (although nearly half, 46 percent, oppose this clear violation of freedom of conscience).
Pew notes that while there is above-average support for an overtly Christian government among Republicans and white evangelical Protestants, nearly four in 10 Black Americans support public teachers leading school prayer, and one in five Hispanics oppose enforcement of state/church separation. A partisan divide was confirmed by the survey, with most Democrats and those leaning Democratic (72 percent) supporting state/church separation, compared with 38 percent of Republicans. Support for the constitutional principle is higher among college graduates and lower in the South, but nevertheless, fewer than one in five Southerners consistently expresses a desire for the integration of church and state, Pew notes.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the new survey is the extent to which Christian nationalism is overrepresented in modern politics. Listening to the rhetoric of senior government officials in recent years, one might conclude that half the nation believes that the United States is a “Christian nation.” The poll shows in fact that Christian nationalist officials are speaking for only a tiny minority of Americans.
Unfortunately, the outsized influence of Christian nationalists in positions of power — including recently appointed federal judges — means that FFRF’s work as a state/church watchdog has never been more needed. This survey will be an important tool to educate public officials, as well as affirm that state/church advocates are not alone. FFRF hopes the survey will reinvigorate secularists to fight against theocratic threats.