Religion Notes


Issue: "Campaigning from the closet," Sept. 19, 1998

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."

Marriage U.S.A.

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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.


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