Separation And Faith: A Good Combination

If you listen to TV preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, you'd conclude that most Americans have turned their backs on religion and that hostility toward faith runs rampant in American society.

But as is often the case, Robertson and Falwell are wrong about this. The facts show that Americans remain interested in religion.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently surveyed attitudes toward religion in 44 nations. Respondents were asked if religion plays a very important role in their lives. In the United States, 59 percent said yes.

That figure is far above just about any other nation. In neighboring Canada, only 30 percent said yes to that question. The figure for Great Britain was 33 percent. It was 27 percent in Italy, 21 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Japan and a mere 11 percent in France.

Other polls have shown weekly attendance at houses of worship in America at about 50 percent much higher than any Western European nation.

No one in America is required to be religious. Contrary to the assertions of the Religious Right, the First Amendment does guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. But the fact that so many people choose to be religious is telling. It's proof that separation of church and state, in America at least, has sustained religious devotion, not depressed it.

Great Britain has an established church. Germany has church taxes. In parts of Canada, religious schools receive tax funds. But none of this state support of religion has boosted genuine religious faith in those nations.

If anything, it has probably hurt religion. After all, who wants to worship at a church so devitalized that it is obliged to turn to the government for sustenance?

Some religious leaders overseas finally seem to be waking up to this fact. Sweden did away with its official church a few years ago, and many ministers supported the move. Some Church of England leaders including the new archbishop of Canterbury -- have started to consider disestablishment.

They're learning what America's founders knew from the start. As James Madison once noted, "The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state."

Say amen, somebody.