Pew Research Center: Declining Influence of Religion Not a Good Thing

Americans are divided about hot issues such as same-sex marriage and prayer being allowed in school, but a recent poll by Pew Research Center indicates that many, over 70 percent, do not feel that the decline in religious influence is a good thing. The poll conducted earlier this month quizzed over 2,000 adults on issues such as whether congressmen or women should have strong religious views, or if Democrats or Republicans are friendly toward religion. It also asked participants to voice their views about businesses having the option to provide goods and services to same-sex couples if their faith does not agree with their lifestyles.

While many people believe that the mandate separating government from religion comes from the U.S. constitution, the specific phrase, “Separation of church and state” is not actually in the document. Some historians, however, are quite adamant in their belief that the intent of America’s forefathers was to allow freedom of religious expression, thereby prohibiting the government from having a say in religious matters. In this recent survey, the Pew Research Center, self-described as a nonpartisan source of facts that informs the public about the issues and trends shaping America, polled Americans on this very topic.

In this latest Pew Research Center poll regarding religion and politics, it appears that a growing number of Americans do not feel that the decline of religious influence is necessarily a good thing. In 1962, the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools, causing some to believe that their right to express their faith in public schools was violated. Recent legislation in states like North Carolina and Tennessee seeks to reestablish the rights of students to pray in schools. This push for a change in the law seems to indicate that at least some Americans feel that the rights of individuals to express their faith should not be hampered.

In other states like Mississippi and Arizona, some elected officials have supported or sponsored legislation protecting business owners from being charged with discrimination if they decline to serve certain individuals based on their faith. Perhaps the most predominant issue in the news these days is the issue of same-sex marriage and the government’s right to determine its legality. This conversation will likely continue for many years to come.

In the meantime, the Pew Research Center poll reveals that about half of those polled feel that government and religion should be allowed to mix. This number represents a slight increase from the 2010 poll which indicated that about 43 percent were agreeable to the mixing of church and state. About 60 percent (an increase of about 11 percent from 2010) of Republicans polled felt that religious views should be included in discussions about politics and social issues, while the number for those of the Democratic persuasion remained stable at a little over 40 percent. Perhaps the most surprising statistic to arise from this year’s Pew Research Center poll is the number of Americans who feel that religion is losing its influence.

The number, 72 percent, is the highest in response to this question since the 2001 Pew survey. Of the number of people who answered affirmatively to this question, some 56 percent indicated that this is a bad thing. The majority of those people identified themselves as white Protestants, but over 60 percent of black Protestants and Catholics and about half of those who declared themselves unaffiliated with any particular religious group also felt that the lack of religious influence in politics is not good.

Same-sex marriages, prayer in schools and faith-based discrimination are all controversial topics that America grapples with. It will be interesting in the months and years to follow to note how these issues are resolved. Conversations about the division of church and state are also likely to continue for years to come. In light of this, at least some Americans, according to Pew Research Center, have already declared that the declining influence of religion in American society might not be a good thing.

By Constance Spruill

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