When it comes to government endorsement of religion, Americans are more or less evenly divided.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 44% of Americans say Christian symbols like nativity scenes should be allowed on government property even if they are not accompanied by symbols from other religions. In addition, 28% of U.S. adults say that such symbols should be permitted, but only if they are accompanied by symbols from other religions, such as Hanukkah candles. One in five (20%) say there should be no religious displays on government property, period.
Advocates on both sides of these disputes can take some heart in Americans’ views. On the one hand, nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults (72%) favor allowing Christian symbols on government property in at least some cases — either by themselves or with symbols from other faiths. Looked at another way, however, nearly half of Americans (48%) express reservations about these displays, either saying that Christian symbols must be accompanied by those from other faiths or that no religious displays should be allowed on government property.
The error in framing things this way is that very few atheists and agnostics believe that there’s a problem with equal access. That is, if state houses and municipalities allow for both a nativity scene and other displays of religion (or non-religion) to be placed, objections will be scant or non-existent.
The new survey also suggests that most Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It always blows my mind to think that the vast majority of them would have believed an entirely different set of fairytales if they’d been born in, say, India or Indonesia.
There’s also this:
As Americans look forward to the holiday season, more than four in ten say they look forward “a lot” to attending religious services.
That may be, but don’t count on Americans to look forward to going to church the rest of the year. Less than 20 percent of them actually attend religious services on a regular basis (at least another 20% say they do but lie about it).
The Pew data were collected earlier this month from 1,507 adults. You can read more about the methodology here.