Addressing the Secularization of America- Part 1

This article is part of a series in which we discuss the history and importance of religious freedom in the United States.

You can read the next article from this series here.

By Ryan Everson

The freedom to live according to one’s religious beliefs is a fundamental human right and one of the founding principles that distinguished America from other nations. Religious liberty has been a staple of the American political sphere since its conception. This liberty is key to the success of our past, and it is the key to our future as we work to ensure our children have the same freedom that Americans have enjoyed for generations. 

But will we continue to enjoy this same freedom? Unfortunately, this is a question that must be asked. America used to be a devoutly religious nation, but in recent decades, Americans have fallen away from religion at an astounding rate, and the prospect of severe religious liberty restrictions has climbed out of the shadows and into the very center of the public square.

 The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits laws that interfere with the free exercise of religion, yet we are seeing more and more laws that do exactly that. The originalist view of the free exercise clause held by the Founders is no longer the status quo, and many judges have abandoned it for more modern and “progressive” interpretations.

The originalist view of the free exercise clause held by the Founders is no longer the status quo…

 
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 Our modern electorate has not valued robust free exercise protections, and many judges and legislators feel similarly. This phenomenon has manifested itself in government overreach that has caused massive issues for several religious organizations. For example, the Obama Administration tried (unsuccessfully) to force an order of Catholic Nuns called “The Little Sisters of the Poor” to purchase and provide birth control in violation of their faith. Additionally, the city of Philadelphia has prevented Christian orphanages from operating according to their faith. These are just two of the more publicized examples of how the government has attempted to destroy free exercise protections.

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 Interestingly, this recent shift in attitudes and policy concerning religious freedom has occurred at the same time as a shift in religious identity. According to Pew Research, the religiously unaffiliated, sometimes referred to as the “nones,” were just 16.1% of the population in 2007 — less than Mainline Protestants (18.1%), Catholics (23.9%), and Evangelicals (26.3%). By 2014, the nones gained an additional 6.7%, making them 22.8% of the total population. Meanwhile, all three of these Christian religious groups declined.

 While an additional 7% of the population may not sound too large, this rate of change is astounding. Over the seven-year period recorded by this study, the secular population gained approximately 1% of the total population every year. By some estimates, including a more recent study from the University of Chicago, the nones are now the largest religious demographic in America.

Despite the upsetting legislation we’ve seen at both the local and federal level, there is reason for hope

 
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 The overwhelming majority of Americans attest to this trend of secularization. A 2019 Pew Research study found that 58% of Americans believe religion plays a less important role in our country now than it did 20 years ago, while only 19% believe religion plays a larger role now. But to contrast, the same study found that a small majority Americans want the nation to become more religious, with 51% of Americans saying they favored an increased role of religion in the country, and only 18% wanted religion to play a smaller role. Additionally, immigrants could play a key role in the fight for religious freedom. According to Pew Research, immigrants pray and go to church more often than native-born Americans, and they are more likely to say religion is “very important.” Despite the upsetting legislation we’ve seen at both the local and federal level, there is reason for hope, as we have a majority that is perfectly capable of advancing our First Amendment rights if we mobilize properly.

This is just the start of a longer conversation on the future of religious freedom in America. Later in this series, we will discuss the role of people of faith in changing the conversation on religious freedom as well as the state of courts and legislation. Religious liberty is a multifaceted topic, and it’s a region of the political landscape where we’ve been struggling to simply hold our ground. However, there is hope that we can and will ensure that our children thrive and enjoy the same freedom that Americans always have for generations.

 
 
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Ryan Everson is currently a pro-life policy intern for the Equal Rights Institute and a political journalism intern for the Washington Examiner. He is also an editor for Lone Conservative and a contributor to Live Action News, The College Fix, and The Catholic Sun.