While Most Americans Want Church/State Separation, Not Many Know What That Means October 28, 2021

While Most Americans Want Church/State Separation, Not Many Know What That Means

When it comes to church/state separation, it’s not up for debate. It’s not subject to popular opinion. It’s a founding principle of this country. Critics of that idea even give away the game when they claim Christianity — and Christianity alone — should have influence over the government. It’s never any other religion, and it’s never the other way around.

Still, the idea that we live in a “Christian nation” has been a driving force of the conservative movement for many years, especially during the previous administration.

But here’s some good news: According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans overwhelmingly support church/state separation and reject the idea that we live in a “Christian nation.”

It’s incredible to see 69% of Americans saying the government shouldn’t have any official religion. (Nice.) Only 15% of Americans want the U.S. declared a “Christian nation.”

Similarly, while 67% of Americans say the Constitution is a secular document, 18% say it’s inspired by God. (Their God, naturally.)

While that 15% and 18% numbers are relatively small, I would add two caveats: First, that minority gets amplified regularly in right-wing media. Second, even many of the proponents of Christian Nationalism wouldn’t say they want the U.S. “declared” an officially Christian country; They would just say the U.S. was founded on Christian principles and should therefore return to them… while rejecting any description of that as a theocracy.

Still, the fact is a majority of Americans (54%) support church/state separation and want it enforced, and only 19% want it abolished. The rest have no opinion on it. It’s a far cry from what the Republican Party and its elected officials would have you believe.

Maybe the most troubling aspect of this survey involves the practical applications of those principles. Even if a majority of Americans support church/state separation, only 46% say teachers shouldn’t lead students in prayers. 30% say they should — and explicitly Christian prayers, no less! (Somehow, 15% of Americans want this to be a “Christian nation,” but 30% want students being force-fed Christian prayers in school.)

A lot of people don’t seem to understand the concept here…

Even worse, a 39% plurality of Americans want religious symbols on public property. Only 35% oppose that idea. (Another 26% have no opinion.)

Those symbols would almost certainly be Christian ones — like the Bladensburg Cross — so what the hell are those people thinking?

It won’t surprise you that white evangelicals want Christianity to have more prominence in the public discourse. But even there, white evangelicals have a limit. Only 36% of them want to effectively live in a Christian theocracy — still more than any other group, but reading the news, you’d think it’d be much higher. Meanwhile 96% of atheists and agnostics support church/state separation (77% of us strongly so) because of course we do.

The bottom line is that very few people want to live in an officially “Christian” country, but many more people are perfectly fine living in a country where Christian symbols and prayers are pervasive.

(Featured image via Shutterstock)

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