May 1, 2002

Poll: Americans See Religion as Source of National Strength but Not Essential for being a Good Citizen

As some Americans prepare to observe the National Day of Prayer tomorrow—its 51st observance since Congress under President Truman established an annual, national day of prayer in 1952—a recent survey shows that many in the U.S. believe religion is the basis for this country’s success.

CONTACT

Mary Schultz
Communications Manager
202.419.4556
mschultz@pewforum.org

Nearly six in ten (58 percent) Americans think the strength of American society is based on the religious faith of its people, according to a recent poll jointly conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

But while most people believe that religious faith underlies America’s strength, very few see faith as a prerequisite to being a good citizen. Fully 84 percent say a person can be a good American if he or she does not have religious faith, while just 13 percent disagree. White evangelicals and African-Americans are slightly more likely to see religion as a requirement for being a good American; but even among these groups, only about one in five takes this position.

“Our strong heritage of religious freedom creates an environment where religion is greatly valued by many and, at the same time, not forced on fellow citizens,” said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum.

Similarly, while two-thirds consider the United States to be a Christian nation, just 14 percent say it is essential that a person believe in basic Judeo-Christian values in order to be a good American, while eight in ten take the opposite view.

The nationwide survey of 2,002 adults was conducted Feb. 25-March 10 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

View the poll report (pdf)