Pew study sees religious divide but overall rejection of Christian nationalism

Pew Research Center graph labeled Share of Americans who say religion's influence is declining as high as it's ever been"

The Pew Research Center’s newest survey on religion in America finds continued polarization but still finds that most Americans do not embrace Christian nationalist tenets.

Among the reassuring findings: A majority of Americans don’t want the government to declare America a Christian nation — albeit 44 percent of those who reject a Christian nation say government should still promote Christian moral values. A sizeable 39 percent of Americans say it should do neither. One-fifth of Republicans or GOP leaners say the federal government should declare Christianity the official religion of the United States.

While 72 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans (the “Nones”) are worried about Christian nationalism, more than half of Americans (54 percent) have never heard of it. Pew reports that the share of Americans who’ve heard of Christian nationalism or view it favorably has not changed over the past year and a half. A quarter who have heard of it view it unfavorably and 5 percent view it favorably.

Also reassuring: More than half (55 percent) of U.S. adults overall contend that the separation of church and state should be enforced, with a minority (16 percent) opposing enforcement. Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to say the federal government should stop enforcing state/church separation (23 percent vs. 10 percent), but more Republicans express more support for the principle than oppose it (43 percent vs. 23 percent).

A slight majority (51 percent) also believes the bible should have no or not much influence on U.S. laws (although 49 percent say the bible should have “some” or a “great deal” of influence). White evangelical Protestants are more likely than other adults (at 86 percent) to contend the bible should have at least some influence on U.S. laws. A full 80 percent of Nones, 79 percent of Jews and 57 percent of Muslims say the bible should have no influence on the laws of the United States. Pew’s findings show that 96 percent of atheists and 90 percent of agnostics are opposed to biblical influence on laws.

An accompanying Pew question about what should happen if the bible and the will of the people conflict reveals some concerning findings. A slim majority (51 percent) says the bible should have not much or no influence, but 28 percent say the bible should prevail. Close to half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would favor the bible over the will of the people. Once again, atheists top the naysayers against biblical influence, with 96 percent opposing. (Interestingly, atheists (at 86 percent) and agnostics (at 83 percent) are far more likely to say the bible has influence currently over U.S. laws, followed by 73 percent of Jewish respondents.)

Revealing the continuing polarization is Pew’s finding that half of Americans (48 percent) say conservative Christians have gone too far to push religious values in government and public schools, while 50 percent say nonreligious liberals have gone too far to keep out religious values.

Pew finds that only 3 percent of Americans appear to be diehard Christian nationalists, based on agreement with three statements associated with Christian nationalism: that the bible should have more influence than the will of the people, that government should stop enforcing state/church separation and that Christianity should be declared the country’s official religion. However, 13 percent of U.S. adults do endorse two of these three statements and roughly one-fifth (22 percent) agrees with one of these three statements. Very significantly, a majority (62 percent) expresses none of these views.

When it comes to views on religious values in government and schools, Pew says: “Most religiously unaffiliated Americans (72 percent) and Democrats (72 percent) say conservative Christians have gone too far. And most Christians (63 percent) and Republicans (76 percent) say secular liberals have gone too far.” Only Jewish Americans, at 76 percent, are more critical of religion in government than the Nones. A whopping 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants say liberals who are not religious have gone too far in trying to keep religious values out of the government and public schools. A full half of adult Americans overall concur with this statement, and 48 percent say conservative Christians have gone too far, also showing the divide.

Disappointingly, the survey found that almost half of Americans (48 percent) say it’s important for the president to hold strong religious beliefs, even if not necessarily their own. A whopping 70 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe this. Americans of all beliefs or nonbelief find agreement however, in a related question, with 94 percent saying it’s important for the president to live a moral, ethical life. Strangely, only 13 percent of Americans perceive President Biden, a devout but progressive Catholic, as very religious. Less oddly, only 4 percent consider Donald Trump as religious. However, two-thirds of Republicans and 67 percent of GOP leaners say Trump stands up “a great deal” for people with their religious beliefs, and about the same share of white evangelical Protestants agree.

Even among the Nones, Biden’s favorability is only 44 percent, higher than the 37 percent average, but much lower than Biden’s favorability with Black Protestants (at 66 percent) and Jewish (at 62 percent). Nearly three-quarters of Nones have an unfavorable rating of Trump, and his unfavorability rating with Jews is at 79 percent and Black Protestant at 80 percent. White evangelical Protestants view Trump most favorably at 67 percent, with self-identified “Christian” next.

Most of the attention to this survey was to Pew’s finding, which its report led with, that 80 percent of adult Americans say religion’s role is shrinking. Pew spun this as “Most Americans who say religion’s influence is shrinking are not happy about it.” Pew found that 49 percent of U.S. adults say both that religion is losing influence and that this is a bad development. However, almost as many — 46 percent — either say they have neither a positive nor negative reaction to religion shrinking or they view religious influence negatively. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

“This survey shows our country remains the Divided States of America over religion and politics,” says Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But it also shows that Christian nationalism is not a popular viewpoint.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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