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Poll: Most Americans OK student religious speech

October 12, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.

A majority of Americans — including those who do not practice a particular faith — think students should be able to express their religion in public schools, according to a new poll by the First Amendment Center.

Three-quarters of Americans support student religious speech at public school events. A slight majority of those who don’t practice religion (52 percent) think such expression is appropriate.

In addition, 80 percent of Americans said students should be permitted to pray at events at public schools.

“Clearly most Americans want to keep government out of religion, but they don’t see an expression of faith by a student at a public school event as a violation of the separation of church and state,” said Ken Paulson, president of the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in a Sept. 15 announcement of the findings.

The telephone survey of 1,003 adults also found a majority (53 percent) of Americans continue to think the U.S. Constitution establishes a “Christian nation,” compared to 55 percent in 2008.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said he found that belief “discouraging” even as he welcomed agreement by two of three Americans that the First Amendment requires clear church-state separation.

“When the framers wrote the First Amendment, ‘no establishment’ meant no religion — Christian or otherwise — could be established under our Constitution,” he said.

The poll, conducted between July 28 and Aug. 6, also found:

  • 76 percent of Americans support the proclamation of the National Day of Prayer by the president or Congress. Atheists groups have filed suit to stop the practice.
  • 61 percent said freedom to worship applies to all religious groups no matter how extreme their views may be.
  • 48 percent said the religious affiliation of a candidate for office is important in their voting decisions.

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