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55% incorrectly believe that Christianity is written in Constitution

Sep 12, 2010

Founders' intent was Christian U.S., poll says

55% believe that is written in Constitution

USA Today

Sept. 12, 2007 12:00 AM

Most Americans [incorrectly] believe the nation's founders wrote Christianity into the Constitution, and people are less likely to say freedom to worship covers religious groups they consider extreme, a poll out today says.

The survey measuring attitudes toward freedom of religion, speech and the press found that 55 percent believe erroneously that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. In the survey, which is conducted annually by the First Amendment Center, a non-partisan educational group, three of four people who identify themselves as evangelical or Republican believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. About half of Democrats and independents do.

Most respondents, 58 percent, say public-school teachers should be allowed to lead prayers. That is an increase from 2005, when 52 percent supported prayer in public schools.

Half say teachers should be allowed to use the Bible as a factual text in history class. That's down from 56 percent in 2000.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, says the findings are particularly troubling during a week when the top diplomat in Iraq gave a report to Congress on progress toward achieving democracy there.

"Americans are dying to create a secular democracy in Iraq, and simultaneously a growing number of people want to see a Christian state" here, Haynes says.

He says the Constitution "clearly established a secular nation where people of all faiths or no faith are protected to practice their religion or no religion without governmental interference."

Rick Green of WallBuilders, an advocacy group that believes the nation was built on Christian principles, says that the poll doesn't mean a majority favors a "theocracy" but that the Constitution reflects Christian values, including religious freedom.

"I would call it a Christian document, just like the Declaration of Independence," he says.

The "scariest" number, in Haynes' opinion, is that only 56 percent agree that freedom of religion applies to all groups "regardless of how extreme their beliefs are." That's down from 72 percent in 2000. More than one in four say constitutional protection of religion does not apply to "extreme" groups.

Haynes says many Americans consider Islam extreme, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks. But he says Roman Catholics were viewed that way in the 19th century, and some people still consider Mormons "on the fringe."

Not all questions in the poll were asked every year. The survey of 1,003 adults was conducted Aug. 16-26. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.