WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – A new joint study from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution shows that less than half of Americans view their country as a Christian nation.
The non-partisan study, which examines the issues underpinning the 2016 presidential election – immigration, changing cultural practices, attitudes toward authoritarianism, and terrorism – also sheds light on American attitudes toward Islam and perceptions of discrimination against Christians.
According to the study, fewer than half of the survey participants (41%) said they believe the U.S. is and always has been a "Christian nation." Another 42% claimed the country was at one time Christian, but isn't any longer. Taken together, 83% of Americans perceive that the faith has played some role in U.S. history.
Not surprisingly, there are vast differences of opinion on Christianity's role in American history along party lines. Democrats are much more likely to reject the role of Christianity in U.S. public life.
"Forty-four percent of Republicans say the U.S. has always been and continues to be a Christian nation, while a majority (51%) say America was once a Christian nation but is no longer. Only five percent of Republicans say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation. In contrast, four in ten (40%) Democrats believe the U.S. is currently a Christian nation, while only about one-third (36%) believe the U.S. was formerly a Christian country but is not today. More than one in five (22%) Democrats say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation," the study said.
Also not surprising is that perceptions about the role of Christianity in U.S. public life differ based on denominational affiliation. For example, white evangelical Protestants are "most apt to believe that the U.S. has lost its Christian identity, and this belief has increased significantly over the past four years."
Four years ago, the number of white evangelical Protestants who believed the country was a Christian nation was 45%, and the number who believed it was at one time a Christian nation, but is no longer, was 48%. Today, fewer (37%) believe America is a Christian nation while 59% believe it was, but is no longer in the Christian camp.
Other groups, including white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and Catholics (both Hispanic and white), who don't necessarily share evangelical's biblical eschatology and gloomy outlook about the decline of Christian culture, are generally more likely to view America as a Christian nation.
Age also plays a factor in perceptions about America's Christian history. The older the survey respondent, the more likely the individual was to label America a "Christian nation." Of those 65 and older, nearly half (49%) said they believed America was a Christian country, while another 39% said they believed it once was but is no longer. The numbers fall steadily until bottoming out in the age 18-29 category, where only 32% believe America is inherently Christian.
Importantly, the study does not define the term "Christian nation," so it isn't clear if it means that the country was founded upon Christianity and Christian principles, or was (and currently is) a nation predominately comprised of Christians.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS
The downward trend in the association of the Christian religion with America also pairs with increasing perceptions that Christians are now a focal point for discrimination in the U.S. Nearly half of survey respondents (49%) said they believed discrimination against Christians has become a "big problem" in the country.
And while there were few statistical differences on perceptions of discrimination by race and ethnicity, there is by social class among white Americans. The less-well-off financially a respondent was, the more likely they were to see that discrimination is a problem for Christians.
"More than six in ten (62%) white working-class Americans believe discrimination against Christians is now as big a problem as discrimination against other groups. Only 38% of white college-educated Americans agree, while 62% disagree," the study noted.
The study also broke down perceptions of discrimination by political party and by religious or denominational affiliation. As can be expected – and was illustrated in the campaigns of figures like Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – nearly three-quarters (74%) of Republicans see a rising tide of discrimination against Christians. The figure was even higher (77%) among white evangelical Protestants, as well as among supporters of New York billionaire and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump (also 77%) – a figure easily explained by Trump's frequent talks about discrimination against Christians in the U.S. and Christian refugees abroad.
Only 34% of Democrats believe Christians suffer any discrimination in the U.S.
ISLAM AND AMERICAN VALUES
The majority of Americans are still not comfortable with the integration of large numbers of Muslims into American society because nearly six in ten (57%) believe Islamic values and teachings are incompatible with the ideals and cultural norms of American life.
Among white Americans, six in ten (61%) said they believed Islam is at odds with American life, but that number declines based on the rate of educational attainment among the respondents. According to the survey, 68% of white "working-class Americans see Islam as having an irreconcilable conflict with American values, while only 53% of college-educated whites feel the same way.
"Perspectives about Islam's compatibility with American way of life also vary significantly by party affiliation. Nearly eight in ten (79%) Republicans believe the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life, a view shared by a majority (54%) of independents and less than half (42%) of Democrats. A majority (55%) of Democrats say Islam does not conflict with American values. More than eight in ten (83%) Trump supporters embrace the idea that Islam is opposed to American values," the study claimed.
"White Christian groups are the most likely of all major religious groups to express doubt about Islam's compatibility with American values, though non-white Christian groups also express considerable skepticism. Three-quarters (74%) of white evangelical Protestants and more than six in ten white mainline Protestants (66%) and white Catholics (63%) say the values of Islam conflict with American values and way of life, as do a majority of Hispanic Catholics (54%). Only about four in ten religiously unaffiliated Americans (43%), black Protestants (43%), and members of non-Christian religions (41%) echo this sentiment."
The PRRI/Brookings Institution survey measured the attitudes of more than 2,600 American adults over the age of 18 during a two month period (April-May).