Who affirms what?
U.S. teens who attended religious services in the previous week were more likely than their counterparts to live with both biological parents, according to a recent study by the Gallup organization's Princeton Religion Research Center. Teens who attended religious services also were more likely to rate their relationship with their father as "extremely close." These same teens were more inclined than others to believe divorce is too easy to get, and they were more likely to believe marriage before fatherhood is "extremely important." Overall, 35 percent of teens in the Gallup study said religious faith is the "most important" influence in their lives (40 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys), while 44 percent said it is "somewhat important" to them. Only 7 percent said it is "not at all important," and 14 percent said it is "not too important." There were no surprises in a University of North Carolina survey of religious beliefs in the South as measured against the rest of the country. Respondents were divided into two categories: those in 12 Southern states, and those in the other states. Results showed 88 percent of Southerners affirmed belief in God (non-Southerners: 78 percent). Ninety percent of Southerners affirmed belief in answered prayers, versus 80 percent of non-Southerners. Also, 46 percent of Southerners said they have been healed through prayer, compared with 28 percent of others. UNC's Institute for Research in Social Science conducted the poll, based on telephone interviews with 1,257 adults. But a Harris poll released last month showed that, well, researchers interviewed a different set of respondents. Harris found that 94 percent of American adults affirm belief in God, 90 percent believe in heaven, 84 percent in life after death (two-thirds of whom expect to go to heaven), and 73 percent in the devil and hell. Of respondents who identified themselves as Christians, 99 percent affirmed faith in God, 96 percent belief in the resurrection of Christ, and 91 percent belief in the virgin birth-beliefs also affirmed by 49 and 47 percent of non-Christians, respectively. However, about one-fifth of the self-professed Christians also indicated belief in reincarnation, as did about the same percentage of the general public.
Questions of legality
Public schools in South Carolina may legally display the Ten Commandments if the displays are "part of an exhibit intended to teach students about law, history, and culture," state Attorney General Charlie Condon announced last month. His 10-page opinion, in response to a legislator's query, included a summary of recent federal court decisions in cases involving religion and public schools. Steve Bates, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there was nothing new in the opinion. However, he faulted the attorney general for not listing specific ways "in which students may exercise their individual rights of religious freedom." As for the displays, he said his organization will "wait and see what kind of exhibits are proposed."
Figures of a different sort were released by the U.S. Census Bureau in its annual report on "Marital Status and Living Arrangements." The report shows a steadily increasing number of unmarried couples in America: an estimated 4.13 million as of March 1997, the latest date available, up from 3.96 million the year before. In 1960, fewer than half a million cohabited, according to Census estimates. The total didn't hit 1 million until 1978, then passed the 2 million mark in 1986, and 3 million in 1991. Of the 4.13 million unwed couples, 1.47 million, or about 36 percent, had children younger than 15. The bureau cited a tendency among young people in recent years to delay marriage, or to try life as a couple before deciding whether to make a formal commitment. According to other studies, only 13 percent of cohabitors expect not to marry. Studies by Illinois and Wisconsin researchers indicate that only 60 percent of couples eventually marry, but most of the rest split up within a few years. Of those who do marry, more than half divorce. Only one in 10 couples are still cohabiting after five years. Cohabiting partners have higher levels of unfaithfulness, conflict, and abuse than married couples, and they have the highest rates of severe domestic violence. (Cohabiting was illegal throughout the country until about 1970. It remains illegal in 12 states, but the laws rarely, if ever, are enforced.) "Until we hit rock bottom and ... see the damage" that cohabiting inflicts on adults, children, and society, the Family Research Council's Robert Knight says, "it's likely that large numbers of people will continue to live together." The Census study also reported 109 million adults were married and living with their spouses in 1997, while 19.3 million were divorced (about 10 percent of the population). About one-fourth of American adults, 57 million, have never been married.
Back to school
The 13 public schools in DeKalb County, Ala., reopened Aug. 12 and classes began for some 7,000 pupils. But not before their administrators and 550 teachers attended some classes themselves-court-ordered training on religion in the schools. In response to a lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent last October issued an injunction against preaching and teacher-led prayers in school. He also issued guidelines for student-initiated religious expression and activities, and for when and where religion could be discussed in classrooms. Faculty and staff were required last April and this month to attend training sessions aimed at acquainting them with the law and showing them how religious freedom can be applied in school settings. The sessions were led by court-approved instructors: Baptist minister and attorney Oliver Thomas, who is counsel for the National Council of Churches, and Charles Haynes, a scholar at the religion-friendly First Amendment Center. The lawsuit was filed by an assistant principal who is a Methodist and parent of a student. He felt Baptists were turning the schools into extensions of the church, complete with talks by evangelists, Bible studies in classes, and prayers at school events. A court-appointed attorney continues to monitor compliance with Judge DeMent's guidelines.
Faith at work
Seven in 10 employees talk about their faith where they work, a study funded by the Lutheran Brotherhood Report found. But only half of American employees talk religion with co-workers at least once a month, according to the study. The other 19 percent say they do so only once a year. Women are twice as likely as men to enter such conversations. And half of the female workers versus one-third of the males know their boss's religious background. Other findings: Rural Americans are almost twice as likely to talk about religion at work than suburbanites; older Americans living in small towns know the most information about their employers' religion; 55 percent of Americans have prayed for career guidance, with women most inclined to do so. People with college degrees pray about careers more than those who don't have a degree, 61 to 48 percent. The survey did not inquire about religious disputes at work.
Body and soul
Another study, by Duke University, found that of 4,000 North Carolinians 65 or older, those who participated in religious activities were 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure, a risk factor in heart disease and stroke. The findings were reported in this month's issue of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. The average diastolic reading was about 78 millimeters of mercury for people who attended church regularly and prayed frequently or read the Bible daily, compared with nearly 81 mm for those who didn't. "There are studies that show if you could reduce the diastolic reading by 2 to 4 millimeters you could cut cardiovascular mortality by up to 20 percent," said Harold Koenig, co-author of the study who teaches at Duke Medical Center and is director of Duke's Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health. The effect of religious activities appeared to be strongest in blacks and people between 65 and 75, he noted.