There appear to be relatively few public opinion polls related to the
principle of separation of church and state, compared
to such hot button items as abortion access or
equal rights to homosexuals. However, the Chief
Justice Moore controversy over a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama
Justice Building gave the topic a high profile in the late summer of 2003. This
resulted in two formal polls, and a number of informal ones, which sampled
public opinion on this topic. The latter are not included here because their
results are so biased. They were typically taken on websites promoting
conservative Christianity, the separation of church and state, or Agnosticism.
2001-APR-10: Faith-based initiatives: A poll conducted by the
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that:
68% of American adults are concerned that faith-based programs might
lead to too much government involvement with religion.
60% are concerned that religious groups funded with public money would
proselytize recipients of social services, as allowed in President Bush's
faith-based initiative program.
78% were opposed to another major component in Bush's proposal which
would have allowed religious groups to discriminate in hiring staff by only
hiring people who share their beliefs.
Most approve in principle of government funding of social programs run
by religious groups. 1
2002-MAR-20: Church promotion of politicians: Present IRS
regulations prohibit tax-exempt organizations, such as almost all churches,
from endorsing candidates for public office. A poll conducted by the Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that:
70% of American adults believe that churches should not endorse
politicians; 22% favored church involvement in political campaigns; 8% had no
The greatest support came from white evangelical Christians: 48% opposed
endorsement; 41% favored it. 2
2003-SEP-24:Ten Commandments poll: A USA Today/CNN/Gallup
poll was conducted during the week of SEP-24. Results were released on about
AUG-28. It found that 77% of the 1,009 subjects polled disapproved of the
decision by the U.S. District Court to have the Ten Commandments monument
removed from the rotunda of the Alabama Justice Building. 3
The margin of error was approximately 3.2 percentage points. That is, if the
poll were repeated twenty times, that nineteen results would be within 3.2
percentage points of 77%.
2003-SEP-29: Church-state separation poll: A USA Today/CNN/Gallup
poll was conducted on SEP-19 to 21. Results were released on SEP-29. It was a
time of heightened concern across the U.S. about church-state separation
issues. In the preceding weeks there were many demonstrations concerning the
No response; Don't know
The inscription "In God we Trust" on U.S. Coins.
Non-denominational prayer at public school ceremonies.
Monument of the Ten Commandments in a public area.
Monument of the Qur'an in a public area
Federal funds for social programs run by Christian
Federal funds for social programs run by Islamic
The precise meaning of the term "non-denominational prayer" in the
second question might have been unclear to some participants. Some might
interpret the phrase as referring to a general theistic prayer to God that is
acceptable to Baha'i's Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other theists.
Others might interpret it as referring to a generic Christian prayer that is
acceptable to members of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations.
The precise meaning of the term "public area" may have also confused
some participants. Some might interpret the term as referring to a government
location, such as a federal, state or municipal park; a government office
building, a public school, etc. Others might have interpreted it more generally
to include any place where the public can freely gather, such as church grounds,
private parks, sides of roads, etc. 4
2004-AUG: U.S. Constitution question:
ChristianWebSite.com conducted a poll of their visitors. This is a
conservative Protestant web site and probably most of their visitors are
Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Protestants. They asked the
question: "Do you believe the US Constitution calls for separation of
Church and State?" Response was:
Unfortunately, the question is ambiguous:
One can interpret it literally. The text of the Establishment
Clause in the First Amendment
of the U.S. Constitution states that
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. To
John Adams and some of the other framers of the document, that probably meant that the federal
government would not select a single official state religion for the country.
But they probably would have had no objection to the
Ten Commandments being posted by itself
in a court building or public school. For many decades, the courts
interpreted the First Amendment as allowing a great deal of
entanglement between church as state, such as religious instruction
and prayers in public schools. So one could answer "No"
with some confidence.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly
interpreted the establishment clause as implying that a wall of
separation must be maintained between church and state. So, the
Constitution, as interpreted by the courts, does call for separation
of church and state. One could answer "Yes" with
"New Poll Shows Americans Oppose Religious Discrimination With Public Funds: Results Find Public Has Serious Reservations About Bush
'Faith-Based' Initiative, Says Americans United," Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, 2001-APR-10, at:
"Americans don't want churches mixing religion with partisan politics,
new poll shows," Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
"Ten Commandments monument moved: New poll says Americans
disapprove of federal court order," CNN.com, 2003-AUG-28, at: