The Religion News Service blog reports on a new survey conducted by Ellison Research, which looks at attitudes towards religious expression in the public square.
“Study results released today from Ellison Research (Phoenix, Arizona) show the vast majority of Americans believe it should be legal to have voluntary student-led prayers at public school events, display the Ten Commandments inside a court building, and allow religious displays on city-owned property. The findings are from a study independently designed and conducted by Ellison Research among a representative sample of 1,007 American adults. The sample is balanced by gender, age, income, race, and geography. The study presented a number of scenarios to people, and asked whether each one generally should or should not be legal in the U.S.”
The findings were overwhelmingly in favor (across the political spectrum) for such legally contentious activities as voluntary student-led prayers at public school events, a “moment of silence” for prayer or contemplation at schools, and nativity displays on city property. But this show of unity starts to break down once religions that aren’t Christianity or Judaism are involved.
“The study also shows a gap between what people feel should be legal regarding Christianity and other religions (in this case, demonstrated by the fact that 83% say a nativity scene on city property should be legal, but only 60% say a display honoring Islam during Ramadan should be legal). Overall, 58% of all Americans feel both should be legal, while 15% feel both should be illegal. One percent believe honoring Islam should be legal while a nativity scene should be outlawed. However, 25% of all Americans say a nativity scene should be legal, but not a display honoring Islam.”
They don’t give numbers to see how many would be open to holiday displays that involve Pagans, or other minority faiths, or if a voluntary student-led prayer would be accepted if it involved an invocation to the Mother Goddess instead of a monotheistic-friendly “God”. My guess would be that support would drop even lower, just as it started to drop for Islam, a theory supported by Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, who is quick to point out that “because people believe in a teacher’s right to wear a religious symbol does not necessarily mean that would apply no matter what the symbol”. In other words, crosses yes, pentacles, maybe not.
Some who are weary of the battles over the separation of Church and State might find this survey welcome news, but we should never confuse popular opinions concerning religious freedoms with what would actually be good for all religious groups in America. These separations between Church and State are there not to enrich the majority, but to protect the minority. Empowering unhindered Christian majority expression, while most likely untroubling to many Americans, could have a chilling effect on faith outside the mainstream. So even though 83% of Americans think Nativity displays should be allowed on public property, unless that freedom extends to all faiths and philosophies, it only privileges one religious point of view at the expense of the millions of Americans who check “other” in the “religion” box.