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These Americans want to blur the lines between church and state

Interest in church-state integration varies by education level, religious beliefs and other factors, according to Pew Research Center

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Religious leaders pray with President Donald Trump after he signed a proclamation for a national day of prayer to occur on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Pew Research Center’s latest report on religion and government is worth a read if you follow religious freedom news. It explores support for church-state separation, detailing how many Americans want public school teachers to lead prayers or believe the Constitution is divinely inspired, among other things.

Pew found that a “clear majority” of U.S. adults are “separationists,” meaning they see value in maintaining distance between political and religious institutions. These Americans may want public officials to acknowledge the good work of faith groups and even partner with them on humanitarian projects, but they don’t want policymakers to exclusively focus on Christian concerns.

However, 14% of adults do want to see open advocacy for Christian values and a blurring of the line between church and state. “Some Americans clearly long for a more avowedly religious and explicitly Christian country,” Pew noted.

Who are these Americans exactly? Pew’s report offers some clues. It showed that 77% of church-state integrationists identify as Republican or lean Republican, 64% think immigrants threaten traditional American values and 63% believe society is better off when people prioritize getting married and having kids.

Researchers also crunched the numbers to figure out what share of various demographic groups reject church-state separation. For most faith groups, the percentage of integrationists was below 20%. White evangelicals (36%) and Hispanic Protestants (26%) were the exception.

Integrationist beliefs were more common among older Americans than the young. Education also seems to play a role, since the share of integrationists decreased as years of schooling increased. The share of women who reject church-state separation (14%) was nearly identical to the share of men in the same category (15%).

Unsurprisingly, very few nonreligious and non-Christian Americans want to see the gap close between church and state. “A desire for church-state integration is almost nonexistent among U.S. Jews (1%) and the religiously unaffiliated (2%), who consist of those describing their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’” Pew reported.

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Solicitor general

The U.S. solicitor general coordinates the government’s involvement in Supreme Court cases and often argues on behalf of the government before the justices. This person, who works out of the Justice Department, also gets the final say on litigation strategy and on when and how to intervene in federal cases.

Last week, Elizabeth Prelogar was confirmed by the Senate for the role. She is only the second woman to hold the position.

What I’m reading...

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, pastors’ jobs are getting harder, according to the Rev. Elizabeth Felicetti, who wrote a heart-wrenching essay about her experiences for The Atlantic. She described her battles with worshippers over safety rules and her struggle to accept that some congregants will probably never come back. “After a year of trying to assure people that we were still the church even when we weren’t in the same room, I don’t know how to convince them now of the importance of gathering in person. ... Returning to a church habit after 20 months away gets harder with each passing Sunday,” she wrote.

Christian author Rachel Held Evans died in 2019, but her influence continues to be felt in the lives of her loved ones, readers and theological sparring partners. I really enjoyed The New Yorker’s beautiful reflection on the significance of her work.

Although many young Americans avoid organized religion, interest in alternative spiritual practices is on the rise. Last week, The Washington Post published a fascinating look at the growing popularity of witchcraft among teenagers. “Young people’s concepts of witchcraft are quickly morphing and multiplying. ... You can buy witch makeup or books or crystals at mainstream stores like Urban Outfitters, Sephora or Barnes & Noble, where, in some locations, a huge chunk of the spirituality section is related to witchcraft and other nature-based practices,” the article notes.

Odds and ends

Welcome to November! Each year when this month rolls around, I think fondly of “NaNoWriMo,” or National Novel Writing Month, a program that challenges participants to write 50,000 words over the course of November. I participated when I was a freshman in college and successfully finished a funny memoir that I gave to my mom for Christmas. What would you write about if you took part this year?

One of my favorite researchers, Daniel Cox at the American Enterprise Institute, recently launched a newsletter on the data that defines American communities. The latest edition looks at the neighborliness of Latter-day Saints.