News: A Christian Nation?

A new poll reveals some interesting views that many Americans share regarding the freedom of religion and Christianity’s role in government. The annual survey was conducted by the nonpartisan education group First Amendment Center. It found that a majority of Americans (55 percent) believe that the founding fathers established America as a Christian nation in the Constitution. Two-thirds believe they intended that America be a Christian nation. The numbers reflect the views of people who described themselves as evangelical or Republican (about 75 percent agreed) and half of Democrats and independents.

When it comes to education and religion in public education, many Americans also felt strongly about faith’s role in the school system. Fifty-eight percent believe public school teachers should be allowed to lead classroom prayers, and 43 percent say that public schools should be allowed to put on nativity re-enactments accompanied by Christian music. Both those numbers are up significantly compared to 2005. Half said that they think the Bible should be used in the classroom as a text for history class. But the number that this USA Today story calls the “scariest” is in regard to how Americans feel about the freedom of religion being applied to “extreme groups." Just 56 percent said that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion applies to all groups, "regardless of how extreme their beliefs are." That’s down dramatically since a similar pre-9/11 survey (in 2000, the number was 72 percent).

Americans’ views about the role of religion in government may be a significant factor in the upcoming presidential elections, with many candidates already expressing their ideas and views on faith in high-profile circumstances, according to this story. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that many Americans are already developing opinions about the candidates’ faith. A whopping seven in 10 said that it is important for a future president to maintain strong religious beliefs.

The view represents a majority of opinions from both major political parties. And when it comes to how people perceive the current major presidential candidates, Americans view Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the least religious. Governor Mitt Romney was seen as the most religious, but in his case, his Mormon faith may actually hurt him in his candidacy: About a quarter of Republicans said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon. USA Today quoted a First Amendment Center fellow who said that though Islam is considered “extreme” by many Americans, Mormonism is seen as “on the fringe” (though he says this is how many Catholics were viewed in the 19th century).

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And whether or not the numbers reflect attitudes that constitutionalists are concerned about, it is clear that the majority of Americans favor a Christian influence in government. Whether it concerns how the founding documents will continue to be interpreted, or who will became the nation’s next president, ideas about faith and Christianity play a significant role in how Americans vote for the laws and legislators that run the country.

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