Religion and government in the United States – eight facts from Pew
Many Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but others, often conservative evangelicals often argue that the notion is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution.
Dalia Fahmy wrote for Pew Research on July that separation of church and state has come under scrutiny again this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with religious conservatives in a series of rulings.
One of the rulings allows states to fund religious schools indirectly, while another protects religious schools from federal employment discrimination lawsuits.
Fahmy wrote that Americans have been debating where to draw the line between religion and government since the founding of the United States.
She notes that even as the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans rises, church and state remain intertwined in many ways – often with the public's support.
She outlined eight facts about the connections between religion and government in the United States, based on previously published Pew Research Center analyses.
- Every state constitution references either God or the divine, but the U.S. Constitution does not mention God,
"God also appears in the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance and on U.S. currency," write Fahmy.
- The U.S. Congress has always been overwhelmingly Christian, and roughly nine-in-ten representatives (88 percent) in the current Congress identify as Christian, 2019 analysis finds.
PROTESTANTS AND CATHOLICS OVERREPRESENTED
While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress slipped down in the 2016 election, Christians as a whole – and especially Protestants and Catholics – are still overrepresented on Capitol Hill relative to their share of the U.S. population.
The religious makeup of the 116th Congress
- Almost all U.S. presidents, including Donald Trump, have been Christian, and many have identified as either Episcopalian or Presbyterian.
Still, two of the most celebrated presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had no formal religious affiliation. Most U.S. presidents have been sworn in with a Bible, and they traditionally seal their oath of office with "so help me God."
- Roughly half of Americans feel it is either very (20 percent) or somewhat (32 percent) important for a president to have strong religious beliefs, according to a survey in February.
But only around four-in-ten (39 percent) say it is important for a president to share their religious beliefs. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it is at least somewhat important for a president to have strong religious beliefs (65 percent vs 41 percent).
- Americans are divided on the extent to which the country's laws should reflect Bible teachings.
Nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults say the Bible should influence the country's laws either a great deal (23 percent) or some (26 percent), and more than a quarter (28 percent) say the Bible should prevail over the will of the people if the two are at odds, the February survey found. Half of Americans, meanwhile, say the Bible shouldn't influence U.S. laws much (19 percent) or at all (31 percent).
Half of Americans say Bible should influence U.S. laws; and 28 percent favor it over the will of the people
- A total of 63 percent of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics.
An even higher, more than three quarters (76 percent) say these houses of worship should not endorse political candidates during elections, according to a 2019 survey. But, more than a third of Americans (36%) say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political matters. (The Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, prohibits tax-exempt institutions like churches from involvement in political campaigns on behalf of any candidate.)
- Only about a third of Americans (32 percent) say government policies should support religious values. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) say religion should be kept out of government policies, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that it is unconstitutional for a teacher to lead a class in prayer at a public school, yet 8 percent of public school students ages 13 to 17 say they have experienced this, according to a 2019 survey.
(It is, however, possible that some teens who spoke of the experience, could have previously attended religious private schools where teacher-led prayer is constitutional.) This experience is more common in the South (12 percent) than in the Northeast (2 percent). Forty-one percent of U.S. teens in public schools feel it's fitting for a teacher to lead a class in prayer, including 29 percent of teens who know that this practice is banned but say it is acceptable nevertheless.