Which of the following best describes your view on the separation of church and state?

Pastors believe the separation of church and state has

gone too far, but disagree over specific applications

(Original release date:  June 23, 2004)  Study results released in the July/August edition of Facts & Trends magazine show 78% of Protestant clergy believe the separation of church and state in the U.S. has gone too far. 

 

Just 8% of all Protestant clergy agree with the statement “the separation of church and state in the U.S. has not gone far enough; more is needed.”  A slightly larger but still small minority (13%) believe “the current separation of church and state in the U.S. is right about where it should be.”  By far the most common perspective of pastors is “the separation of church and state in the U.S. has gone too far, or in ways it was never intended to go” – 78% say this statement best reflects their personal position. 

 

The study was conducted for Facts & Trends by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a full-service marketing research firm in Phoenix, Arizona.  The research was conducted among a representative sample of 700 senior pastors of Protestant churches throughout the United States. 

 

Among the larger denominational groups in the study, Southern Baptist ministers are particularly likely to complain that the separation of church and state has gone too far (93%).  Pentecostal and charismatic pastors also are united in this belief (92%).  Methodist ministers (70%) and Lutheran pastors (66%) generally share this position, but by smaller majorities. 

The study gave clergy an opportunity to weigh in on a number of specific church/state issues.  They were asked whether a number of things should or should not be allowed in the United States.  

 

Ninety-five percent of all clergy believe the words “under God” should continue to be included in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Even among ministers from denominations that are members of the National Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant denominations and has a reputation for being a more liberal body of churches, 85% of clergy believe “under God” should stay in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

 

Ninety-six percent say the motto “In God We Trust” should remain on U.S. currency.  Again, this position is widespread among clergy, with the vast majority of clergy from both the more liberal National Council of Churches and the more conservative National Association of Evangelicals supporting retention of the motto. 

 

Ninety percent say religious groups should be allowed to use government property for meetings if non-religious groups are allowed to do so.  This perspective is held by 95% from NAE-member denominations, and by 81% from NCC-member denominations. 

 

One of the most controversial issues in the news recently has been whether displaying the Ten Commandments in a courthouse is permissible.  According to 86% of Protestant ministers, this should be allowed in the U.S.  Virtually all members of the NAE feel this way (95%), but the issue is more divisive within the NCC, where 65% believe this should be allowed, and 35% said it should not be.  Among individual denominations there is widespread support for allowing this type of display, but with varying majorities:  98% among Pentecostal/charismatic churches, 96% among Southern Baptists, 96% among other Baptist groups, 76% among Methodists, 66% among Lutherans, and 80% among all other denominations combined. 

 

Seventy-nine percent of ministers also believe displaying a Christmas nativity scene on government property should be allowed under the separation of church and state.  Again, members of the NAE are far more united in this belief (93%) than are members of the NCC (59%).  

 

At the same time, 71% of ministers feel that displaying a Jewish menorah on government property during Hanukkah should be permissible, including 90% from the National Association of Evangelicals, but only 54% from the National Council of Churches.  There is considerable diversity of thought among major denominational groups.  Ninety-one percent of Pentecostal/charismatic ministers say this should be permissible, along with 78% of Southern Baptists and 75% of other Baptists, but only 64% of Methodists and 52% of Lutherans believe this way (along with 64% of all other denominations combined).  

 

Ministers do remain sharply divided over the issue of religious displays on government property.  The most common perspective, held by 37% of all Protestant ministers, is that “Christian displays should be allowed on government property, but not those of any other religion.”  This belief is particularly common among pastors in small churches (under 100 people in attendance), pastors under 45 years of age, those in the South, and those from denominations with membership in the NAE.  Denominationally, Southern Baptists, other Baptists, and Pentecostal/charismatic ministers are the ones most likely to hold this opinion.  

 

Thirty percent of all ministers take the position that “religious displays from major world religions (such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam) should be allowed on government property.”  This belief is particularly common among pastors in churches with 200 or more people.  

 

Also fairly common is the perspective that “no religious displays of any kind should be allowed on government property,” which is held by 22% of ministers.  Members of the NCC are particularly likely to believe this, which makes it no surprise that Methodists and Lutherans also are especially likely to hold this opinion.  

 

The least common perspective is that “religious displays from any religion (whether it’s Christianity, Hare Krishna, Wicca, or anything else) should be allowed on government property.”  Just 12% of all ministers have this opinion.  This belief is particularly common in the Midwest and the West, plus among ministers who are 60 and older.  

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, said the study found that while clergy clearly feel that there is too much separation of church and state in the country today, there is no common belief on just what the application should be.  “The vast majority want general expressions of belief to remain in place, such as ‘In God We Trust’ on currency or ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance,” Sellers noted.  “They also clearly demand parity for religious groups in public life, such as allowing a church group to use the city hall for a meeting if the garden club is given the same privilege.  Those beliefs are pervasive, whether the minister is young or old, liberal or conservative, and regardless of denomination – we’ve seen more agreement on this than on just about any other issue we’ve studied with ministers.”  

 

“The divisive issue is how this parity applies to individual religious groups.  There is a lot of disagreement about who should be allowed a religious display on government property, for instance.  Pastors find it easy to agree on basic beliefs related to church and state, but much harder to agree on specific application of those beliefs,” Sellers concluded. 

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 700 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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Which one of the following best describes your beliefs?

Considering the issues surrounding the separation of church and state, should

each of the following be allowed or not allowed in the United States?

 

Views

All

Pastors

Southern

Baptist

Other

Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All

Others

It has not gone far enough; more is needed

8%

1%

4%

12%

15%

6%

11%

It is right about where it should be

13

6

13

18

19

2

18

It has gone too far, or in ways

   it was never intended to go

 

78

 

93

 

83

 

70

 

66

 

92

 

71

 

Views

All

Pastors

Southern

Baptist

Other

Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All

Others

No religious displays of any kind should

   be allowed on government property

 

22%

 

14%

 

13%

 

37%

 

42%

 

6%

 

26%

Religious displays from major world

   religions (such as Christianity,

   Judaism, or Islam) should be allowed

   on government property

 

 

 

30

 

 

 

35

 

 

 

24

 

 

 

30

 

 

 

35

 

 

 

33

 

 

 

30

Religious displays from any religion

   (whether it's Christianity, Hare Krishna,

   Wicca, or anything else) should be

   allowed on government property

 

 

 

12

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

11

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

10

Christian displays should be allowed

   on government property, but not

   those of any other religion

 

 

37

 

 

42

 

 

49

 

 

23

 

 

13

 

 

46

 

 

33

 

Issues

All

Pastors

Southern

Baptist

Other

Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All

Others

Including the motto “In God We

   Trust” on U.S. currency

 

96%

 

99%

 

99%

 

92%

 

83%

 

100%

 

95%

Including the words “under God”

   in the Pledge of Allegiance

 

95

 

99

 

99

 

92

 

84

 

100

 

93

Allowing religious groups to use

   government property for

   meetings if non-religious

   groups are allowed to do so

 

 

 

90

 

 

 

94

 

 

 

91

 

 

 

90

 

 

 

82

 

 

 

99

 

 

 

87

Displaying the Ten

   Commandments in a courthouse

 

86

 

96

 

96

 

76

 

66

 

98

 

80

Displaying a Christmas nativity

   scene on government property

 

79

 

88

 

91

 

65

 

59

 

92

 

72

Displaying a Jewish menorah on

government property during Hanukkah

 

71

 

78

 

75

 

64

 

52

 

91

 

64