Back in 1975, 68% of Americans had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in “the church or organized religion.” That number is down to an all-time low of 44% today. Self-identified Protestants are 56% confident in their religions, while self-identified Catholics are only 46% confident. Catholic confidence hit its all-time low of 39% in 2007, and had slowly to 52% last year. The two low points can be tied to the sexual abuse scandals and the Church’s opposition to including contraceptives in health insurance.
These are the results of the yearly religion survey conducted by Gallup. They line up in many ways with the results of national surveys on social issues like gay marriage and abortion that have their roots in religious ideology. In other words, unless the surveys were done on a state-by-state basis, so that we could assess those states where support for freedom of religion outpaces support for subjecting all of us to religious restrictions, they are pretty useless. It is pointless to know that over half of all Americans support same-sex marriage when the support is concentrated in certain states and regions, and opposition is present in a physical majority of the country.
Knowing that 56% of us have little or no confidence in organized religion does nothing to stop the juggernaut of religion-based laws that are eating away at one of our most basic freedoms. The religious right likes to talk about how our ancestors came here for religious freedom, but they chose to ignore why our ancestors wanted religious freedom. They lived in countries with official churches, countries where people could worship where they chose, but belonging to the wrong religion cost them the right to vote or hold office or own property or get a decent job. Laws based solely on religious principles are a backdoor way to impose a state church on us without coming right out and having Congress make a “…law respecting an establishment of religion…”
My grandmother taught me that one cannot have freedom of religion unless one first has freedom from religion, and the writers of our Constitution knew which was the cart and which was the horse.