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Volunteer classroom aid Rose Snuffler leads a prayer for students at Faith Gospel Tabernacle Elementary School

Rose Snuffer leads morning prayers at the Faith Gospel Tabernacle Elementary School in Kanawha County, West Virginia, April 24, 1975.

Associated Press

Americans are surprisingly supportive of religion in school

A new survey found that Americans are more supportive of faith-related displays than Black Lives Matter or Pride flags

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SHARE Americans are surprisingly supportive of religion in school
This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

It’s not easy to be a school administrator these days. In addition to sorting out confusing (and controversial) safety guidance tied to COVID-19, education leaders must deal with pushback (and then the pushback to the pushback) to their efforts to address hot-button topics like racism and gay rights.

Without even trying, I seem to see a story every few hours about parents wanting a school to ban Black Lives Matter banners or put an LGBTQ pride flag back up. Just this morning, I read about a teacher who was urged to not be so vocal about her support for the police.

New research from the Survey Center on American Life confirms that, at least on some issues, school leaders are facing an almost impossible situation. How are they supposed to know whether to display a pride flag, for example, when the share of Americans who say that’s a good idea (47%) or a bad idea (52%) is almost the same?

Perhaps administrators can find relief by focusing on other, less contentious issues. As I looked at the new survey, I was stunned to discover that religion may fit the bill.

The American Perspectives Survey found that Americans are broadly supportive of religion-related discussions and displays in public school classrooms. Overall, more than three-quarters of U.S. adults say they’re comfortable with lessons on world religions (83%), optional Bible classes (76%) or school Christmas trees (81%).

Support is a little lower for displays of nativity scenes (64%) or a Jewish menorah (64%), but the share of Americans in favor of those symbols is still well over 50%. The survey was fielded in August among 2,625 U.S. adults.

Americans are also pretty unified around the idea that lessons on religious liberty don’t need to be a priority. There’s only a 16 percentage-point gap between the share of Republicans who say it’s important to teach about religious freedom (57%) and the share of Democrats who say the same (41%). On other potential lesson topics — including racial discrimination, LGBTQ identity and climate change — more than 30 percentage points separated respondents from each party, researchers found.

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Mark of the beast

One of the factors driving faith-based vaccine hesitancy is the association between vaccination and the “mark of the beast.” The Bible says this mark, described in Revelation 13:16-18, appears on people who align with the devil rather than God.

The biblical passage doesn’t actually describe what the “mark of the beast” will look like, so pastors and individual Christians draw their own conclusions. That helps explain why mark-related claims appear in all sorts of (mostly contentious) contexts. I’ve previously read about “mark of the beast” concerns tied to employment disputes, technological advancements and the Social Security administration.

What I’m reading...

For its latest issue, Christianity Today magazine profiled Gary Chapman, the steady, unassuming man behind a faith-based book on relationships that’s dominated pop culture for nearly 30 years: “The Five Love Languages.” The piece explores his life as a pastor and his unusual relationship with his own fame.

My home state of Illinois recently passed an exciting law that will enable athletes to modify their uniforms for religious reasons. Among other things, it will enable a Muslim girl to wear her hijab without seeking special permission from school authorities. Young athletes who spoke with Religion News Service say they believe the policy will help teams become more diverse.

There’s a budget showdown brewing in Congress, and some faith leaders are urging policymakers to focus on its moral implications. Now is the time for Congress to acknowledge how many American families are suffering and embrace the bold solutions that will honor “the inherent dignity of people shaped in the image of God,” wrote Lauren W. Reliford for Sojourners.

Odds and ends

If you follow my work, you’ve read quite a bit about religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates in recent weeks. But I still urge you to check out this in-depth explainer on the legal precedents involved, which was written by religious liberty expert and law professor Doug Laycock.

Speaking of religious exemptions, there’s a storm brewing over them in the NBA. Rolling Stone recently released a peak behind the curtain at league battles over vaccines.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan spoke with Deseret magazine about his career, his five kids and his Catholic faith.