Public Attitudes toward Church and State

By Ted G. Jelen; Clyde Wilcox | Go to book overview

relegate religious discourse to the sideline of the public arena is to dismiss as politically irrelevant a large portion of the central concerns of the American people. The strong importance of religious values to many Americans suggests that proponents of various religious perspectives will continue to make claims on the American political system.

Second, American religion is quite diverse. The data presented in this chapter suggest that although some aspects of religion are important to large groups of Americans, there is no consensus on denominational affiliation or religious doctrine in the United States. The fact of great diversity at the elite level further suggests that members of the mass public may receive inconsistent cues from political, economic, and religious elites concerning desirable or acceptable religious attitudes.

Finally, this religious diversity is a source of concern for many Americans. Large minorities of Americans regard some religiously motivated perspectives as unfit participants in American public life. Despite apparent constitutional guarantees of religious neutrality (something to which even most legal accommodationists would assent), many Americans regard members of some groups as threatening, and base that judgment on the content of the group's beliefs. Moreover, our data also suggest that many have a more general fear of the potential for religiously divisive conflict.

Thus, our data suggest that many U.S. citizens have a moth-andflame perspective on church-state relations. Simply put, religion is an important part of American politics because religious values are important to many Americans. Conversely, the entry of religion into the public sphere, when combined with the sheer diversity of religious belief in the United States, creates certain risks that worry many Americans.


Notes
1.
The Williamsburg Charter study included a separate oversample of young people, which we do not analyze in this study.
2.
The fact that the Catholic priests were all diocesan priests may skew the sample somewhat. Approximately one-third of all priests belonged to religious orders and were not assigned to diocesan offices. The diocesan priests presumably had lower levels of education than those in religious orders and may have differed in their attitudes on church-state matters as well.
3.
Thus, the data derived from the elite samples are not probability samples of

-54-

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Public Attitudes toward Church and State
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Tables ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Note xvii
  • 1 - Religion, Politics, and the Constitution 1
  • Notes 26
  • 2 - Religion and Politics: a Contested Public Space 28
  • Notes 54
  • 3 - Abstract Views of Church -- State Relations 57
  • Notes 75
  • 4 - Concrete Views of Church-State Establishment 76
  • Notes 111
  • 5 - Attitudes Toward the Free Exercise of Religion. 113
  • Notes 140
  • 6 - Conclusion 142
  • Notes 156
  • Appendix 159
  • References 171
  • Index 181
  • About the Authors 190
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