Public Attitudes toward Church and State

By Ted G. Jelen; Clyde Wilcox | Go to book overview
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In this chapter, we explore some of the implications of our results for the practice of religious politics in the United States. Although few Americans have occasion to think seriously about church-state relations on a regular basis, we have shown that most of our respondents appear to have coherent, if somewhat nuanced, attitudes on such issues. While the structure of attitudes on the public face of religious expression does not come close to resembling a "proreligion/antireligion" dimension, there appear to exist underlying rationales for the distinctions drawn by the public. Moreover, our analyses of the elite samples of the Williamsburg studies suggest that the apparent complexity of mass attitudes on issues of church-state relations resembles (and may result from) correspondingly differentiated attitudes on the part of political, economic, educational, and religious elites.

In this concluding chapter, we return to the theoretical themes developed in chapter 1 and assess the empirical adequacy of the typology of church-state positions elaborated there. Do citizens take the sorts of positions defined by attitudes toward issues of religious establishment and free exercise? Do the positions on issues of church and state taken by mass publics correspond to the categories defined in chapter 1? What are the characteristics of people occupying each cell of the church-state typology?

Two Faces of Religious Accommodation

In chapter 1, we noted that there are two general rationales for an accommodationist understanding of the establishment clause. In one case, a reading of the First Amendment that allows for nonpreferential


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Public Attitudes toward Church and State


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