Social conservatives' comments about the United States being a "Christian nation" not only perverts the Constitution and other bedrock documents of our nation, it also ignores how Americans are voting with their feet.
One of the "most striking" trends of the last decade is that the number of Americans who identify with no religion has more than doubled, to 29.4 million or 14.1 percent of the adult population. Those numbers come from the American Religious Identification Survey, 2001 ( ARIS 2001 ) , released in late October by The Gradate Center of the City University of New York.
The survey of more than 50,000 adult Americans living in the 48 states of the continental U.S. closely followed the questions of a similar survey undertaken in 1990, so comparisons of responses can be measured over time. It was conducted between February and June, with a very low refusal rate of only 5.7 percent.
ARIS 2001 "has detected a wide and possibly growing swath of secularism among Americans. The magnitude and role of this largely secular segment of the American population is frequently ignored by scholars and politicians alike." The report called this pattern "completely consistent with similar secularizing trends in other Western, democratic societies."
Among other noteworthy trends, the proportion of respondents who self-identify as Christian has declined from 86 to 77 percent. The greatest percentage increases in identification have been among groups such as Wicca, Pagan, and Santeria, though their absolute numbers remain small, combined perhaps a million people.
Roman Catholics remain the largest single denomination, with nearly a quarter of the adult population, or 50 million adherents. Baptists are second at 16.3 percent, while all other denominations are in single-digit percentages. Muslin/Islamic adults have nearly doubled to 1.1 million, while the number of Jews declined.
About 16 percent of Americans have switched their religious identification, some more than once. The top three net gainers in adherents are Evangelical Christians, those who describe themselves as Non-Denominational Christians, and those professing no religion.
Among the "high-turnover religious groups" are Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Buddhists, all of whom have high numbers of converts and almost equally high numbers of people leaving those faiths.
The deeper one digs, it appears that identification with a faith does not necessarily translate into affiliation with a place of worship. "Although 81 percent of America's adults identify with a religion, only 54 percent reside in a household where anyone belongs to a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship."
"That difference between religious identification and belonging could well contain the seeds of a potent cultural shift in which religion means something quite different to those who adhere to one from those who see themselves as the institutional custodians of one."
Among the broader associations identified are that women and older Americans are more likely to describe their outlook on life as religious in nature; Black Americans are least likely to describe themselves as secular, while Asian Americans are most likely to do so. Those with no religion were much more likely to be single, while those who are "born again" are much more likely to be married.
In only three states do an absolute majority identify with a single religion: Mississippi...;55 percent Baptist; Rhode Island...;51 percent Catholic; and Utah...;51 percent Mormon.
"Those with 'no religion' constitute the largest group in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. In contrast, the percentage of adults who adhere to 'no religion' is below 10 percent in North and South Dakota, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee."
These types of demographic information may be useful in helping gay and lesbian organizations understand jurisdictions and target their political activities in the future.