Heartbreaking new poll: a third of Americans want Christianity as the state religion

April 7, 2013 • 4:17 am

HuffPo and YouGov  are teaming up to take daily polls of Americans’ views on a diversity of issues. The latest one, described here, reveals a depressing fact: more than one-third of Americans would favor (either strongly or mildly) the establishment of Christianity as a state religion.  37% of Americans think that the U.S. has gone too far in separating church and state, 42% either believe that states are allowed by the U.S. Constitution to establish state religions (they are not so allowed), and 32% favor a Constitutional amendment making Christianity the official U.S. religion.

You can download the poll’s results here, but they occupy only one page, so here it is:

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The ignorance and religiosity burns on this one and, although I’m perfectly aware that America is the most religious of First world countries, I found these results surprising.  42% don’t know that state religions are banned, and more than a third of our citizens want either a state or a national religion of Christianity.  Nearly 40% want more mixing of church and state.

These people are not only unaware of what the Constitution says—any immigrant taking the test for U.S. citizenship would know better—but also want the Constitution amended so that we can hang crucifixes on every classroom wall.  This is all a direct abrogation of what our nation’s founders wanted and intended when they drafted our Constitution.

We have a long way to go!


*Some of you will want to know how the poll was conducted. It’s not the best methodology, but, knowing my country, I wouldn’t completely dismiss the results. Here’s how the poll was taken:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted April 3-4 among 1,000 U.S. adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

59 thoughts on “Heartbreaking new poll: a third of Americans want Christianity as the state religion

  1. These are discouraging, disheartenning results. But at least a majority of the respondents (47 percent compared to 34 percent) oppose or strongly oppose making Christianity the official state religion.

    I heard a couple of interviews last year with social scientist T. M. Luhrmann, who studied how envangelicals train and trick themselves into having conversations with a personal god. Dr. Luhrmann has a rather accommodationist op-ed piece in the N. Y. Times (nytimes.com/2013/04/07/opinion/sunday/how-skeptics-and-believers-can-connect.html?hp&_r=0). These survey results make me doubt, more than ever, that there can be any real connection or rapprochement between serious, committed believers and secular, skpetical folks, unless issues of belief, doubt, truth, integrity, etc. are left out of the conversation altogether.

    1. Precisely… the vast majority oppose it… that’s the key… I wonder what the results would have been when I grew up in the fifties… I guess I’ll have to dig deeper in this and decide whether that third want Christianity to be the only religion or a state religion like there is a state bird… I’d gladly give them the bird… 😉

    2. Technically, a plurality, not a majority are in opposition to making Christianity a state
      religion (according to the poll), but the point is still a good one.

  2. It’s not wonderful reading for you, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The opposition to changing the status quo is strong :

    Q2 (establish Christianity as your state’s official religion). Strongly oppose is the commonest response.

    Q3. (official state religions permitted?) Not permitted is nearly two-fold the largest answer (and the don’t-knows are next).
    Q4. (a constitutional amendment to make Xtianity the official religion of the USA) Strongly oppose are still the commonest response.

    Public inertia isn’t a very good anchor to belay to, but it is something that you can work with. A little gerrymandering (utterly immoral, but politically very popular and extremely effective). Some calculated stimulation of infighting (what’s that phrase … “divide and rule”). Careful promotion of sensible sounding but deeply flawed wordings for the formal proposition.
    Oh, horrors ; I’m talking about getting involved in politics again, aren’t I. I shall proceed forthwith to wash my mouth (and keyboard) out with soap. Or depending on what’s in the chemical cupboard, fuming nitric or calomel. “Wire brush and Dettol”, for the Brits in the audience, and I’ll go to the tail of the queue.

      1. Whichever you, “Dear Listener”, disagree with.
        which part of maliciously sowing dissension and strife did you not read from the (shrill) instruction-book of Margaret “the Msggon” Thumper?

  3. For years I strongly believe that evangelical christianity is in fact the greatest threat to the United States, and this poll seems to confirm my believes. Evangelical christianity is a strongly anti-republican ideology whose main modus operandi is to undermine public education by promoting homeschooling and the pursuit of replacing science with propaganda (see creationism in schools). An insufficiently educated people are an easy prey of tolitarian demagogues.

  4. The funny thing is that many countries that have some form of Christianity as the state religion are considerably less religious than the USA.

    Anyway, how would it work to have “Christianity” as a state religion? Anglican? Lutheran? Southern Baptist? Presbyterian? Catholic? No wait, I hear many Protestants do not even think that the latter are Christians…

    1. On the subject of religious tolerance in America, there is a very interesting paper by an historian, K.C. Davis (follow the link).

      Desnes Diev

  5. Sort of ironic that freedom of religion, among other freedoms, would be attacked in a nation that struggled for freedom, while the existence of state religions in Europe has been discussed as a main reason why religiosity is so low. (Also known as “let them hang by their own rope” effect.)

    I don’t think religion would have been so successfully ridiculed over here [Sweden] in the middle of the last century if not for the existence of the fat and ineffective state church at the time. It was an easy target, filled with nincompoops of the Pat Robertson type.

    And perhaps it was a factor in other nations as well. (With the advent of Paul’s and Gregory’s theory of religion as correlated with dysfunctional societies, I don’t think it was a *main* factor.)

    1. And I forgot to update again, I see Alex was noting the same funny/irony just before me.

    2. I do not think that people calling for a state religion want a “big and ineffective state church which everybody ignores”.

      They want access to the state’s legal enforcement machinery in order to make other religions illegal, and especially public display of atheism.

      They want religious indoctrination at schools, they want punishments for blasphemy and apostasy. They want the state to organize the perfect indoctrination bubble for their kids.

      They dont want Sweden, they want Iran.

      1. Compared with many American religious fanatics, Iran is actually quite progressive. Afterall Iran allows at least abortion in case of rape of to perserve the mother’s life, which is absolutely tabboo among america’s religious right. Also Iran supports stemcell research. Further are contraceptives legal in Iran.

        Of course any country is more progressive than US fanatical christians.

  6. There is no such religion as “Christianity,” no single set of tenets that encompasses them all. Even the Nicene Creed seems to have gone by the board for some. Let’s see a poll conducted that lists out the various sects from Roman Catholic to Lutheran to Southern Baptist to Evangelical Free, and see how people vote when it’s a case of a specific sect being established.

    Religious establishment could only be imposed from above these days; any vote would reveal how little many sects have in common, and how much they actively dislike each other.

    1. That is an excellent point. I suspect the idea of Christianity conforms to what each respondent interprets as “the” correct version of Christianity. Your insight allows another step of logic; if all these people want a state religion, it might require a Holy War (intellectual, I hope) to decide exactly what that means. There is clearly no agreement of details.

  7. People ask me why the so called new athiests like Jerry Coyne and myself are so hostile toward religion. After all how do others believing in an all knowing benevolent god effect me. Please tell me how peoples desire that I be governed by the edicts of a Christian church not effect me? In fact it could make a person openly hostile.

  8. If they want it so hard, then give it to them already. Nothing would cripple them more than getting what they want (look at the state churches of Europe for examples.) Religious commitment in America is mostly skin deep, and most people would be placated if they get public prayer and religious symbols.

    Most of American fundies are not like the Taliban. A few of them are, but most just want nice things said about Jesus and the comforting illusion that they live in Christian society. The key to victory is to deprive those few Talibans from ground troops by letting them have little things.

    As Steve Dutch pointed out, any time you go to court over some public display of religion, that makes maybe hundred atheist happy but angers million believers. Atheists will have hard time convincing anyone that they are rational ones if they continue alienating people for trivial reasons.

    ACLU and ACLJ mostly exist to keep each other in business.

    1. “Nothing would cripple them more than getting what they want.”
      Hmmm. It has taken many years for Britain to reach its present state of secularity and for the C of E to become largely irrelevant in the national life. I doubt that you can transplant the history and experience of one country to another. Each country will follow its own path. Were your thoughts put into practice in the USA you might be in for something of a roller coaster ride over the rest of this century.

      1. Either way, a top-down approach so far doesn’t seem to work either. By resolving issues like prayer in schools through a judicial fiat you alienate a lot of people. You then get a handful of Taliban preachers goading the rest into widespread obstruction.

        1. Yes, the top-down approach was so ineffective against racism. Instead of getting people upset and mandating integration in the public schools, the Negroes should simply have waited till the tide of public opinion turned and they were welcomed with open arms.

          I think a top-down approach is working over the long run: the law is on our side. It will probably work much better than your appeasement strategy of allowing state religions, at any rate. I am not willing to allow a couple of generations to pass in hopes that people will become so used to Christianity in government that religion loses its teeth. And just as general principle, it’s better to stand on general principles.

    2. “Religious commitment in America is mostly skin deep, and most people would be placated if they get public prayer and religious symbols.”

      Religionists are not placated with a few symbols. Religious privilege already permeates most of American society, with the privileges being written into laws in almost every area one can think of. Taxes, civil rights, health and safety, zoning, copyrights, health care, pensions – there is hardly a legal arena where the laws are not filled with religious privileges and exemptions. Dozens of lawsuits, based on religion, have already been filed over contraception coverage in the new health care law, and it hasn’t even gone into effect yet. Entrenching this privilege in a Constitutional Amendment would make it just about impossible to ever change any of this.

      Imagining that all religion wants is a few symbols or prayer in school and that the ACLU is useless, is about as myopic a viewpoint as one could have.

      1. You have the core that consists of True Believers that want all that stuff you noted. Most Americans just want to think that they live in a Christian society. Just look how quickly the old moral order crumbled to dust during the sixties. Take a look at premarital sex numbers and tell me that majority of Americans have any real zeal in them.

        The question is how to separate that inner core from the less fanatical believers. The core is constantly goading moderate Christians ,telling them that they can’t officially pray in public and in schools, how abortion is everywhere and so on. And moderates carry on because protesting in front of courthouse that removed 10 commandments or abortion clinic is the cheapest way to show that you are committed.

        Consider this: If you overturn Roe v Wade the abortion will still remain legal in most mayor population centers. The states that would ban abortion have already imposed so strict abortion laws that abortion is de facto illegal there anyway.

        On the other hand the end of Roe v Wade (and ban of school prayer) will throw Religious Right in disarray because they will be left with little to complain about. Once confronted with the fact that Roe v Wade repeal did next to nothing to reduce abortion they will be forced to either do something of substance (like adopt children that would otherwise be aborted) or find a new hobby.

        1. “You have the core that consists of True Believers that want all that stuff you noted. Most Americans just want to think that they live in a Christian society.”

          I don’t know what you base this on, or why you think it matters. One third of Americans want a Constitutional Amendment making Christianity the official national religion. That’s a lot more than just a meaningless symbol. And, I suspect, a poll of elected officials would be higher than that.

          “On the other hand the end of Roe v Wade (and ban of school prayer) will throw Religious Right in disarray because they will be left with little to complain about. ”

          That seems an odd way of looking at things. You would defeat the religious right by overturning Roe and allowing prayer in school. And, you’re not paying attention if you think that’s all they are complaining about. Have you not noticed the religious intrision into the health care debate? Religious lobbyists spend $400 million a year to influence legislation. Roe and prayer are the least of their concerns.

        2. The problem is that even the wishy-washy believers will support all the “stuff” tomh noted, because they don’t realize they’re wishy-washy. They may only go to church on xmas and easter, they may never pray unless it’s for show, etc, but gosh-oh-gee worshippin’ the baby jebus is just the most important thing and society would just fall apart without it.

          “Let them hang by their own rope” doesn’t work with this sort. You can point to them as they hang there and say “I told you so” but they’ll likely have no idea what you mean. They’ll likely be unaware there’s a problem.

  9. IMHO this is what happens when people don’t want to be responsible and accountable for their actions. Fortunately, two thirds feel otherwise… :-O

  10. I wonder if there is a possible reaction to a perceived threat from Islam here?
    Here in the UK I have Seen people who are not religious sign petitions against the building of a mosque, and when I questioned why they signed, the answers have been along the lines of this is a christian country! It seems like they are happy to be considered Christian in the face of the threat of Islam.

  11. Since the only TRULY American religion is probably Scientology, we should give them that as their only option for state religion and see if they want it.

  12. “heartbreaking?” Hardly. Given that at bare minimum 25% of Americans either live on the fringes of lunacy or are in fact certified lunatics, these stats should come as no surprise to anyone. These poll results are expected.

    Just take a gander at the stats for the number of people who wanted to see the mitster become our prez. Take those stats and apply them here. Then ask yourself if these stats are a surprise.

    1. “Heartbreaking” is not a synonym for “surprising”. If you’ve never had your heart broken by something you saw coming a mile away, count yourself lucky.

  13. Back during the Cold War, I read that % of population attending church was higher in the religion repressing Soviet Union, than in England with one state church, or West Germany with two. Maybe anti relious folks should support a USA state church. 😉

  14. “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords..”

    I wish this would inspire some mainstream media talk on making the USA more “Xtian” via-the-Constitution route. In this era of rapid-fire velocity of information we are currently in, things like the Tea Party make a meteoric arc into oblivion, once they get full frontal exposure. In 2010, the percentage of likely voters who identified themselves as Tea Party members was 24%. In 2012, the number dropped to 8% (Harper’s Index). Sarah Palin (who??) every day in the news 2008, fired by Fox in 2012.

    With the typical “Fair, but Balanced” coverage, more laughable Bible stories, esp. Adam and Eve, Tower of Babel, Jonah, no eating shellfish, no eating rabbit, would get more rebuttal time, to the point where young people would have a quick riposte as far as why they dropped Xtian beliefs.

    Break the eggs, with their notion of making the omelet, and find that the actual eggs are stinky and rotten. In the end, the whole mess thrown out!

  15. Only a third?!? On the contrary, that’s excellent news. If they hadn’t been so smug, 50-60 years ago this might actually have passed as a constitutional amendment.


    1. In the 19th Century, there was a movement in the United States to make English the official language, and German, official language number two! This was prior to German unification in 1871.

      I think Finland took note, as Finnish is the official number one language, and Swedish is number two in that country!

  16. > This is all a direct abrogation of what our nation’s founders wanted and intended when they drafted our Constitution.

    Now this is the part of the debate that I really don’t get. Why does what the founding fathers wanted matter? Isn’t what the people who are alive today want more important? Especially on the rational side It boggles me that this is considered an argument.

    1. If what the founders wanted was to learn from the mistakes of the past, and what people today want is to repeat those mistakes, then I’d say what the founders wanted should take priority.

      Or to put it another way, the passing whims of a temporary majority should not trump the hard-won wisdom of the founders. We should at least understand their reasoning before overturning it.

        1. Long enough to muster a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution, and to get it ratified by three-quarters of the states.

    2. I can’t speak for Jerry, or others, but for myself what makes this part of the debate is that believers, conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, in the US idolize the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. They have revised history so that the Constitution and the FF seem to support their positions, and they reference their revised histories constantly in support of their positions.

      This kind of argument is a direct counter to that. I do agree, though, that we should not beholden ourselves to any parts of the Constitution that do not currently make sense just because it is a revered foundational document. But I do think it needs to be done legally, and that the reasoning behind making it difficult to change the Constitution is sound.

  17. We must indoctrinate the next generation of koolaid drinkers in which denomination of the Abrahamic Quadratics? (I include the Salt Lake City centric group as post-Christian.)

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