Support for School Prayer Declines Among Catholics, Jews; Remains High Among Evangelicals

A new study shows that support for school prayer has steadily decreased among most Americans since the 1970s with the exception of two groups: evangelicals and older Americans.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel concludes from examining studies over the past 30-plus years that overall support for school prayer has declined – even among Catholics and mainline Protestants – but the support among evangelicals across all generations has remained steady at around 71 percent.

"Social and cultural changes have led to greater opposition to state-sanctioned prayer and reading religious materials in public schools among some segments of the population," Schwadel reported in his findings. "Specifically, there's growing opposition among non-evangelicals but not evangelicals, and these changes manifest across generations."

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In an interview with The Christian Post on Monday, Schwadel pointed out that surprisingly, the rise of the "Christian right" in the 1980s and 1990s may have been a contributing factor as to why some Americans are less likely to support prayer in school.

"I can't definitely conclude that to be the case, there is a large amount of evidence that leads some to conclude that the growth of the religious right may have turned some Catholics and mainline Protestants against school prayer," said Schwadel. "Nonetheless, over 70 percent of evangelicals of all age groups, even those in their twenties and thirties, support prayer in schools."

Although the study is highly academic in its reporting style, Schwadel pointed out that one graph in particular highlighted his findings.

While support for prayer in schools among evangelicals of all age groups has remained steady, it has declined among Catholics and mainline Protestants since 1974. The one exception is among older Catholics.

For example, among those around 80 years of age, both Catholics and evangelicals support school prayer at the same level (73 percent) while 67 percent of mainline Protestants around 80 feel the same.

However, the differences become much greater among those who are in their mid-40s. Whereby school prayer among evangelicals remains steady around 72 percent, only 60 percent of Catholics and 58 percent of mainline Protestants of the same age support of the idea of prayer in public schools.

The study also concluded that the more educated or younger people were, the less likely they supported school prayer. African-American and southerners had the highest level of support and Jewish respondents, the lowest at 24 percent.

The study will be published in the upcoming journal, Sociological Forum, although Schwadel is not certain of the publication date.

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