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Despite the fact that President George W. Bush has gone to great lengths to assure Americans that they live in a tolerant and multi-faith country, more than two-thirds of adults still consider America to be a “Christian nation,� according to a study released in March.

In fact, when it comes to Americans' opinions on religion's role in public life, contradictions and incongruities abound, as indicated by findings from the second annual study of religious opinion conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Fully 80 percent of adults say the influence of religion in the world is a good thing, yet 85 percent of Americans believe religion is at least partially responsible for causing wars. Almost half (47 percent) say that “some religions� are more likely than others to encourage violence among their believers. But 65 percent admit, for instance, that they know little or nothing about Islam and its practices.

The Pew Center's report, entitled Americans Struggle with Religion's Role at Home and Abroad, was based on a nationwide survey of 2,002 adults. It was conducted in February and March 2002, covered a broad overview of American religious beliefs and practices, and included responses to several questions on the impact of Sept. 11 and related issues.

Six months after the tragedy, people are less likely than they were immediately after the event to say that religion plays as great a role in public life. A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last November found that 78 percent then agreed that religion's role in American life was increasing. That percentage has now fallen back to its pre-Sept. 11 level of 37 percent.

Although 8 in 10 Americans profess that a person can be a good American without Judeo-Christian values, the majority of adults still closely link national identity and religious faith. Fifty-eight percent of adults believe America's strength is predicated on the religious faith of its people, and only 36 percent believe that American society would be as strong without such faith. Blacks are most inclined to believe the country's strength stems from its religious convictions (68 percent); whites (58 percent) and Hispanics (49 percent) are less likely to agree. And while people “who are not religious� are still viewed favorably by a slight majority (51 percent), more than half of Americans (54 percent) also say they have an unfavorable opinion of atheists.

The role religion plays in fostering morality is another area in which Americans have strong, if conflicted, views. Sixty percent believe children are more likely to grow up to be moral adults if they are raised in religious households, but only 13 percent say a person must have religious faith in order to be a good American. The connection between religion and morality is most strongly made by conservative Republicans and least likely to be drawn by liberal Democrats and Independents. Women, people over age 65 and Southerners are also more inclined to tie a belief in god to general morality, as are two rare political bedfellows — blacks and white evangelicals. With regard to religion, when Americans aren't contradicting themselves, they can often be found agreeing with groups with whom, in other circumstances, they would have little in common.

For more information, contact Heather Morton at (202) 955-5078 or log on to


Just under half of Americans under age 30 (47 percent) believe that children are more likely to be moral citizens if they are raised with religious faith, compared with three-quarters of those 65 or older.

Children are more likely to be moral when raised with faith 62% 62% 59% 47% 59% 66% 75%
Belief in god is needed to be moral and have values 44% 69% 63% 40% 44% 52% 56%
Strength in American society is based on religious faith 58% 68% 49% 46% 56% 65% 70%
Source: The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press


The impact of Sept. 11 was powerful but brief. Just 37 percent of Americans today believe that religion's influence on American life is increasing, compared with 78 percent who said so last November.

Increasing 37% 78% 71% 37%
Decreasing 55% 12% 24% 52%
Same 4% 3% 2% 3%
No opinion 4% 7% 3% 8%
Source: The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
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