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Most Americans Support Prayer in Public Schools

Most Americans Support Prayer in Public Schools

Also express widespread support for religious extracurricular activities

by Mark Gillespie


PRINCETON, NJ -- In the aftermath of the recent shootings in the nation's schools, more people are calling for a return to traditional family values -- including prayer in the classrooms. Once a daily staple for many schools, prayer in the public schools was banned by court decisions in the early '60s on the grounds that it violated constitutional protections guaranteeing the separation of church and state. Returning prayer to the schools has become a rallying cry for conservatives in the wake of the Columbine High School tragedy in Colorado, and is a key part of the platforms of conservative presidential candidates such as Dan Quayle and Gary Bauer.

According to a new Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll conducted the weekend of June 25-27, seven out of ten Americans favor allowing daily spoken prayers in the nation's classrooms, and a somewhat greater percentage -- 74% -- supports a proposal allowing schools to display the Ten Commandments. As might be expected, there are partisan differences, with 81% of those who describe themselves as politically conservative supporting school prayer, compared with 58% of liberals. In addition, African-Americans are also more likely to support school prayer (85%) than are whites (69%). Older Americans -- those 50 and over -- are more likely to support prayer in schools (76%) than are those between the ages of 18-29 (62%).

Religious Extracurricular Activities Get Blessing of Public
In Maryland this spring, a high school senior was refused re-entry into his commencement ceremony and was detained and threatened with arrest after he walked out of the ceremony to protest an unofficial prayer in which community leaders participated. The student had previously won his fight to keep prayer from being an official part of the ceremony. Americans do not appear highly sympathetic to this minority concern, with 83% in favor of allowing students to say prayers as an official part of graduation ceremonies. In addition, 78% of Americans support the use of public school facilities after hours by student religious groups (such as Bible clubs and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes).

Should the Bible Be Part of a School's Curriculum?
There is widespread support among Americans -- 71% -- for using the Bible as a part of literature, history, and social studies classes. The proposal receives solid support among most demographic groups, with little difference between college-educated Americans and those with only a high school education. However, there is once again a gap between conservatives and liberals, with 79% of conservatives supporting the use of the Bible in classes compared with 64% of liberals.

While Americans favor the teaching of creationism in science classes, they want evolution taught as well. Nearly seven out of ten Americans (68%) support teaching creationism alongside the theory of evolution. At the same time, a majority -- 55% -- is opposed to teaching creationism instead of evolution (only 40% favor this proposal).

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,016 adults, 18 years and older, conducted June 25-27, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next I'm going to read a variety of proposals concerning religion and public schools. For each one, please tell me whether you would generally favor or oppose it. First, ... . Next, ... . [RANDOM ORDER]

A. Making public school facilities available after school hours for use by student religious groups

Favor 78%
Oppose 21
No opinion 1

B. Allowing public schools to display the Ten Commandments

Favor 74%
Oppose 24
No opinion 2

C. Allowing students to say prayers at graduation ceremonies as part of the official program

Favor 83%
Oppose 17
No opinion *

D. Using the Bible in literature, history, and social studies classes

Favor 71%
Oppose 28
No opinion 1

E. Allowing daily prayer to be spoken in the classroom

Favor 70%
Oppose 28
No opinion 2

F. Teaching creationism ALONG WITH evolution in public schools

Favor 68%
Oppose 29
No opinion 3

G. Teaching creationism INSTEAD OF evolution in public schools

Favor 40%
Oppose 55
No opinion 5

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