A new report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows an increase in religiously unaffiliated Americans.
The survey shows that almost 20 percent of respondents claim they are “religiously unaffiliated”—a four-percentage-point increase from five years ago. This category of “nones” has been steadily increasing over the past four decades as formal religious affiliation with Protestant denominations has declined.
While the steady increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has led some to wonder whether the U.S. is “losing our religion,” the reality of religious practice in America couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Heritage’s FamilyFacts.org details, over 90 percent of Americans believe in God or a higher power, and almost 40 percent attend religious services weekly. Even among respondents to the Pew Forum study who claim no particular religious affiliation, roughly 80 percent still believe in God or a universal spirit, and a majority describe themselves as “religious” or “spiritual.”
Notably, even individuals who don’t regularly participate in religious practice still recognize its positive influence on society. According to the same Pew Forum report, almost eight in 10 of those unaffiliated with a particular religion—including self-professed atheists and agnostics—agree that religious organizations play an important role in providing charity and strengthening communities.
Indeed, when belief translates to action—as it often does—the benefits can be significant for civil society. As FamilyFacts.org details, individuals who regularly attend worship services and report a high level of religious commitment are more likely to volunteer and give to charity. Those who engage in private prayer—as the majority of Americans report doing on a daily basis—are also more likely to be involved in service activities.
Regular religious observance can also have a profound impact on maintaining stable, intact families and help parents raise well-adjusted adolescents. Families who frequent religious institutions are more likely to enjoy lower levels of conflict, increased martial stability, and greater parental involvement. Likewise, teens who grow up in religious households and regularly practice their faith are at a decreased risk of using illicit drugs and engaging in sexual activity or experiencing teen pregnancy.
Religious faith and observance can also impact individuals’ health. Men and women who regularly practice their religion tend to have lower stress levels, are less likely to experience major depression or anxiety, and are at a decreased risk of dying from cancer.
Nevertheless, an increasing disregard for the benefits of belief is threatening to confine Americans’ faith behind closed doors. Whether through Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate, city mayors’ intolerant treatment of Chick-fil-A this summer, or increasing threats to individual and institutional religious liberty, hostility toward faith in the public square abounds.
Religious individuals and institutions should be free to exercise their religious belief within their private spheres as well as to engage publicly on the basis of religion. Policymakers should defend the religious liberty that allows individuals to practice their faith at home, place of worship, and work. Our Constitution demands it—no matter how many “nones.”