US poll shows most favour public religion, including non-believers

By staff writers
September 22, 2010

A majority of Americans, including those who do not practice a faith, think students should be able to express their religion freely in public schools, according to a new poll by the First Amendment Center.

Three-quarters of Americans support student religious speech at public school events. A slight majority of the non-religious (52 per cent) also think such expression is appropriate, reports the Religion News Service.

In addition, 80 per cent of Americans said students should be permitted to pray at events at public schools.

"Clearly most Americans want to keep government out of religion, but they don't see an expression of faith by a student at a public school event as a violation of the separation of church and state," said Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in a recent announcement of the findings.

The telephone survey of 1,003 adults also found a majority (53 per cent) of Americans continue to think the US Constitution establishes a "Christian nation," compared to 55 per cent in 2008 - a slight decrease.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said he found that belief "discouraging" even as he welcomed agreement by two of three Americans that the First Amendment requires clear church-state separation.

"When the framers wrote the First Amendment, `no establishment' meant no religion - Christian or otherwise - could be established under our Constitution," he said.

The poll, conducted between 28 July and 6 August, but disseminated publicly some weeks later, also found:

- 76 per cent of Americans support the proclamation of the National Day of Prayer by the president or Congress. (Atheist groups have filed suit to stop the practice on constitutional grounds.)

- 61 per cent said freedom to worship applies to all religious groups no matter how extreme their views may be.

- 48 per cent said the religious affiliation of a candidate for office is important in their voting decisions.


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