Study: Most Americans Support School Prayers, Religious Displays

A majority of Americans believe religious displays, prayers at school and the Ten Commandments display in a court building should be legal in the United States, a new study showed.

While religious Americans were more likely to agree, a majority of those who are not religious also believe such religious expressions and practices should be allowed, according to Ellison Research which conducted the research on a sample of 1,007 adults. The study was released Thursday.

Survey results revealed that 98 percent of born-again Americans compared to 81 percent of those not born again believe voluntary student-led prayer at public school events, such as football games or graduation ceremonies, should be legal. Also, 97 percent of born agains believe the law should support religious groups renting public property for meetings if non-religious groups are allowed to do so while 86 percent of not born again Americans agree. And 94 percent of born agains say a teacher wearing a religious symbol, such as a Star of David or a cross, during class should be legal compared to 85 percent of not born people.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, believes the survey breaks the stereotype of the "religious right" and the "liberal left" believing a certain way.

"There's too often a stereotype in today's world that one side – be they defined as churchgoers, conservatives, the 'religious right,' Republicans, evangelicals, or whatever – want to turn the U.S. into a theocracy or shove religion down everyone's throats, while the other side – again, be they called Democrats, the non-religious, liberals, or the unchurched – are anti-religion and fighting to make this a purely secular society. On most of these issues, these different groups have a lot more in common than the stereotypes would suggest – most people simply support the right to individual religious expression, even if another person may not like that expression," said Sellers in the report.

Although conservatives were more likely than liberals to believe in allowing the specific religious expressions and practices, majorities from both the groups agree with many of the issues such as allowing a nativity scene on city property, allowing a teacher to wear a religious symbol during class, and letting religious groups rent public property.

There were larger discrepancies between the two groups on other issues such as voluntary student-led prayer at public school events. While 95 percent of conservatives say that should be legal, only 73 percent of liberals agree. Moreover, 87 percent of conservatives believe it should be legal to display the Ten Commandments in a court building but only 60 percent of liberals agree.

Comparing the religious and non-religious Americans, 94 percent of born agains believe the Ten Commandments in a court building should be allowed but only 70 percent of those not born again agree.

Still overall, the survey found an overwhelming majority of Americans united on many of the issues. Ninety percent agree that religious groups renting public property if other groups are allowed to do so should be legal and 89 percent also say it should be legal for a public school teacher to permit a "moment of silence" for prayer or contemplation for all students during class time.

"By definition, giving rights to one person means taking rights away from another. If I have the right to paint my house any color I want, my neighbor loses the right not to have to look at a purple house," said Sellers. "Americans clearly come down on the side of freedoms and rights for individuals and groups, and against restrictions. They believe in the right of a student to express herself at graduation, or the right of a church to rent a public school gym for its services, or the right of a public school teacher to wear a Star of David on his lapel. The majority feels those who don't wish to listen to a prayer at graduation or see the Ten Commandments in a court building have the right to ignore these things – but not the right to stop others from expressing themselves."

Sellers cautioned, however, that the findings from the study do not indicate that Americans support individual rights and freedoms at all costs.

"This research is not a legal document with exact definitions of individual cases, but a generalized idea of what Americans believe," Sellers explained. "Because people believe in a teacher's right to wear a religious symbol does not necessarily mean that would apply no matter what the symbol, how it's displayed, etc. It means in general, they believe teachers should have that right of personal expression. But Americans also take into consideration how their own freedoms impact others. For instance, one-third feel a landlord should have the right to do with his property what he wishes, while two-thirds disagree if that means a homosexual couple loses the right of equal access to housing."

Although most Americans (83 percent) believe nativity displays should be allowed, 67 percent of born-again Christians say an Islam display on city property, such as a city hall, during Ramadan (a Muslim holiday) should be allowed and only 56 percent of those not born again agree.

Other findings showed that 52 percent of Americans overall believe it should be legal for a religious club in a high school or university to determine for itself who can be in their membership, even if certain types of people are excluded, and 33 percent say it should be legal for a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment to a homosexual couple.

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