As it has become customary at the beginning of a new Congress, the Pew Research Center released its Faith on the Hill report. Our elected officials at the national level have been slow to catch up to the country’s secularizing trend. The report shows only one “religiously unaffiliated” elected official, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. While New York’s Ed Kilgore is too optimistic about the religious diverity in Congress, it represent a major step forward. In the U.S. Senate, that bastion of American conservatism, there is a “none.”
But the CQ Roll Call survey of members of Congress that informs Pew’s report undercounts the secularity of its respondents. In the case of California Rep. Jared Huffman, he’s been added to the “don’t know/refused” category. Though Pew acknowledges in the text that Huffman “identifies as a humanist.”
Then there are two cases that show even more complexity. One is a current member of the House, another is a former member. Current Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) identifies as Jewish in the survey, but he also identifies as a humanist according to the Center for Freethought Equality. There’s also the case of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-California). Pew included some trends to show how faith on the Hill has changed over time. A few of those periods include the tenure of Stark who served for 40 years. Stark identified as a Unitarian during his whole career but he acknowledged late in his tenure that he was an atheist, something that is not uncommon among Unitarians. The Pew Landscape Survey of 2014 finds that nearly 1-in-5 Unitarians (and people belonging to other liberal faiths) do not beleive in God. Stark’s atheism is mentioned in a footnote in the report, but still means that people with nontheistic backgrounds are undercounted among elected officials by surveys that conflate religion with belief in the supernatural. These surveys measure belonging to a community, not necessarily what the people believe. The current way of reporting religion in Congress makes secular people even more invisible than they are in the national legislative body.
It’s been two weeks since Election Day. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that 47 openly nontheist or humanist candidates were elected into office this year. In this post I show where they are, their religious identification, and how all the candidates that were endorsed in this cycle fared.
The maps are the continuation of my project scraping the bios of candidates in the Freethought Equality Fund website. I previously ran some preliminary analysis just with the candidates running in the General Election.
Each dot in the maps represents one candidate. WordPress doesn’t allow me to embed the maps well. Click on the map picture and you will be able to scroll through the dots. They have the following information:
- Office the candidate was seeking
- Election outcome
- Secular Identity
The dots are both colored: Green represents local offices, orange representstate legislative offices, and purple represents federal legislative offices. The darker the shade, the higher the office, for exmaple, light orange is used for US House candidates and dark orange is used for US Senate candidates. The dots also vary in size, the smallest dot represents local (board of education) candidates, the largest dot represents US Senate candidates.
One last thing about secular identity. As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I simplified the identities of the candidates because many had very complex ones (see also Hemant’s post about the candidates before Election Day) .My broad categories are:
- Secular/Humanist: Secular or humanist (or secular humanist)
- Non believer: includes atheist, agnostic, non-theist, non-believer
- Not religious: Includes nones, not religious, not practicing a religion, spiritual but not religious
- Did not state: Person did not specify if thy had a religious preference
- Religious ally: A person who identifies with a religion
Those who identify with both a religion and a secular identity are classified as secular.
Map 2: Winning Candidates Only
Let me know what you think of the maps in the comments. I will be releasing more analysis as I continue cleaning the data.
From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The LatiNone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on September 7, 2017.
PRRI released yesterday a new ginormous poll of religious identification in the United States. At 101,000-ish cases the largest this century and its scope is so large that it is really unprecedented. Of course, I am interested in what it says about the religious nones. And I may say, many things are good news.
Take, for example, this pretty line chart tracing the growth of the nones back 40 years. Up to the 1990s, roughly 1-in-10 Americans were non religious. Then, by the 2000s the population started growing and was famously captured and highlighted by the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey nearly a decade ago. Back then people considered that 15 percent of Americans being non religious was a pretty big deal. In the crazy days following the release of the 2008 ARIS those of us in that team did a lot of media. My friend Ryan Cragun did an interview (I can’t recall where) predicting that the nones soon will be 25 percent of the country. I thought that was optimistic, time has proved me wrong.
Today, about one-quarter of Americans are religious nones. What does that mean for the country and its future? I don’t really know, but I will explore several questions regarding the growth of the nones in the next few posts using the PRRI report. I will explore the demographics of the nones, the politics of the nones, and likely engage with some of the pieces that have been, are being, and will be written about this report.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was a commencement speaker at Hillsdale College, a right-wing small college in Michigan. His remarks, summarized in a series of tweets, included this obviously false statement:
If you have not been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you know that religious affiliation in the United States has declined significantly. In fact, even the most “devout” religious group among Americans, the white evangelical cohort, has seen its ranks depleted as young people leave in droves its politicized faith.
While we all know he’s lying, there are some charitable interpretations of this lie. A piece in the Washington Post’s Fact Checker traces Pence’s remarks to a piece in The Federalist that cites some legit research by sociologist Roger Finke and by sociologists Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock. The Post article suggests that Pence is misinterpreting the results of a study by Schnabel and Bock that finds that strong affiliation with religion has been constant in the United States, even as nonreligion increased.
I don’t think Pence was interested in statistics and nuanced analysis of religious trends when his speechwriter(s) drafted the speech. Given the audience, graduates of a high-profile right-wing college (alma mater of luminaries such as Club for Growth president Chris Chocola and mercenary extraordinaire Erik Prince), Pence was talking about power. An earlier tweet in that thread hints about power as the theme of the address.
The current President of the United States has done everything in his power to please his white evangelical base. From nominating right-wing ideologues to the courts to attacking or reversing policies enacted by his predecessor on cultural matters such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights. Reduced immigration, the return to the sexual mores of the 18th century, and many more retrograde policies have been the longtime goals of the Christian Right. This is why white evangelicals are the President’s strongest supporters. So when Pence says that faith is strong, and is rising, he means that the views of those in power are aligned with those in the Hillsdale commencement audience. POTUS is making good on his promise to “make America great again” for a segment of the population that thinks that American greatness is its power to oppress.
I grew up in the Caribbean and it is not surprising that I love baseball. But even though I live close to two Major League Baseball franchises, I rarely attend games. An oped by Howard Bryant in the New York Times sums up my feelings about baseball these days. And it all goes back to the fateful day of September 11, 2001. Slowly, starting with the Yankees, teams replaced the seventh-inning stretch’s silly rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the jingoistic “God Bless America.” Eventually, the mix of imperial politics and sports worsened. Here’s Bryant describing the transformation:
It all felt right, until temporary grieving turned into a permanent, commercial bonanza — and a chilling referendum on who gets to be American. But then it didn’t feel right, like when in 2008, a New York police officer ejected a fan at a Red Sox-Yankees game after he left his seat during a seventh-inning-stretch recording of “God Bless America.” Recently a high-ranking Red Sox official told me — nearly 17 years after the towers fell — that he really doesn’t know why the team still plays “God Bless America,” but he knows this: The team would “get killed” publicly if it was the first team to stop doing it.
As an atheist, I don’t apppreciate the overtly religious tones of the song that essentially tells me that I don’t belong. I’m constantly reminded that I do not belong. The seventh-inning should be for stretching, not for cramping your arm in faux-patriotism celebrating the military-industrial complex. Alhough this blog is supposed to go beyond church and state matters, sometimes I wonder if there’s a church/state separation case to be made with Go Bless America in stadiums. The teams are private enterprises with stadiums that, for most of them, are heavily taxpayer subsidized and, in many cases, single-use facilities. So, who knows? Maybe there’s an enterprising case to be had.
Sean McElwee published an op-ed in the Huffington Post hitting on some points that I have thought for a long time. Namely, that Democrats are naive about the Supreme Court while conservatives and Republicans are quite aware of the power of the institution.
…[R]epublicans are far more mobilized on the court than Democrats, something true among both the general public and activist elites. Despite his rank incompetence in every branch of government, Trump has managed to create an efficient pipeline of far-right judges to the federal bench, filing it four times faster than Obama through his first year. However, even as the court has become a reactionary institution, my analysis of Cooperative Congressional Election Studies reveals a disturbing pattern: Democrats mostly have positive views of the court and see it as a centrist institution rather than one that explicitly seeks to advance the Republican agenda.
I understand that church/state separation is sort of a foundational issue for secular Americans. I think that the views of many on the issue are quite naive, along the lines Sean explains in his article. Talking to fellow secular people, I get this feeling that they have a quasi-religious trust in the Constitution and that matters of Separation are settled. That the Enlightenment ideas in which the Constitution is rooted are well understood and that religious conservatives are the ones attempting to undermine this tradition.
One of my concerns with church/state issues is that President Obama left an inordinate amount of court vacancies unfilled that President Trump is filling at a rapid pace. These are not people friendly to our issues, whether they are the wall of separation or any progressivish policy position. With an additional SCOTUS vacancy, we’re closer to a theocracy that we’ve been in a while.
Five members of the U.S House of Representatives (Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)) have joined a newly formed caucus.
Sources: Center for Freethought Equality; Secular Coalition for America
Flashback Friday (FF) is a category of posts previously published elsewhere that still have some contemporary relevance. This FF post was originally published on April 25, 2013 in the PRRI blog.
Yesterday, the Rhode Island State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now returns to the State House of Representatives, which already voted in favor of a similar bill. Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. Senator, is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his office.
If and when Rhode Island finally codifies same-sex marriage into law, it will make New England the first region in the country where all states have legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples. According to PRRI’s recent survey, a slim majority of American (52%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. However, in New England, support increases to 7-in-10 (70%) residents. This high level of support may be related to the concentration of the religious groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in the region.
New England has a low percentage of groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Only 7% of New Englanders identify as white evangelical Protestants, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (18%) Americans overall. Only 24% of white evangelicals favor same-sex marriage (71% are opposed). Black Protestants, who also oppose same-sex marriage (37% favor, 57% oppose), are also underrepresented in New England compared to the national population (3% vs. 8%). Instead, Catholics (30%), mainline Protestants (22%), and Jews (6%) are overrepresented among New Englanders, and majorities of these groups favor same-sex marriage (57%, 55%, and 81%, respectively). In addition, 1-in-5 (21%) New England residents are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s similar to the rest of the country. More than three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts was the first New England state to approve same-sex marriage in 2004. It was later joined by Connecticut (2008), Vermont (2009), New Hampshire (2010), and Maine, which is one of the three states that extended marriage rights for same-sex couples through referendum last November.
On my post “The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis” I wrote:
I guess they [younger people] are leaving [evangelical churches] more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.
A new research paper by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger shows that in states with anti-gay rights policies, the nones increased more rapidly. Abstract below
Hout and Fischer have made the repeated, controversial claim that the dramatic rise of “religious nones” in the United States is due to the prominence of the politics of the Christian Right. As the argument goes, the movement’s extreme stands on gay rights and abortion make religion inhospitable to those who take more moderate and liberal positions. We take another look at this proposition with novel data drawing on expert reports and interest group counts that capture the prominence of the movement in each American state from 2000 to 2010. We attach these data to decennial religious census data on the unchurched, as well as estimates of the nones from Cooperative Congressional Election Study data. At stake is whether religion is independent of political influence and whether American religion is sowing its own fate by failing to limit taking extreme stands. Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.
This paper is very useful for understanding how politics affects religious identification. Alas, it doesn’t answer (and it wasn’t its goal to do so) the larger question about the religious beliefs of people who move toward no-identification. I think people, particularly young people, who become nonreligious and come from a conservative Christian background leave religion because of doubts about the veracity of religious beliefs than political matters. Otherwise they would join or start to identify with a more liberal Christian tradition.