Culture wars (cont.)
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, October 14, 2012
10/14/12 at 3:06 AM
Americans are becoming less religious as the years roll by, if the most recent Pew Research Center poll is to be believed. According to the survey, more and more Americans are identifying themselves as "unaffiliated" with any religion - nearly 20 percent of Americans now describe themselves that way, according to the poll. And it's a trend that's been on the rise for two decades.
What does waning religious commitment mean for the future? Could it mean any changes in Oklahoma, where religion is a regular topic in the public arena? Could these unaffiliated Americans - known as the "nones" - even be a factor in Oklahoma politics some day?
One thing seems sure: The philosophical clash between the two camps seems destined to continue, even grow in the near future - and Oklahoma is likely to be one of the hot spots.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report, " 'Nones' on the Rise," the "number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public - and a third of adults under 30 - are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling."
The so-called unaffiliated include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics, and also about 33 million people who say they have "no particular religious affiliation."
The researchers say the growth of the "religiously unaffiliated ... is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones," noting also that "young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives."
But the growth also is occurring among older adults. "Generational replacement is not the only factor at play. Generation Xers and Baby Boomers also have become more religiously unaffiliated in recent years." While the number of Americans raised without an affiliation has grown steadily in the past few decades, "the overwhelming majority of the nones were brought up in a religious tradition." About three-quarters of today's unaffiliated adults were raised with some affiliation.
Not surprisingly, "with their rising numbers the religiously unaffiliated are an increasingly important segment of the electorate." Could they become a force for change in Oklahoma any time soon?
As is the case elsewhere, the older generations are being replaced in Oklahoma too, and if the younger folks are like their counterparts elsewhere, their influence will eventually be felt - maybe sooner than we think. By the year 2020, well over half the state's population - about 2.6 million out of a projected 4 million - will be in their 40s or under, according to projections by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Battle lines drawn
Some advocates don't want to wait that long for change to come about. Last week, Oklahoma became one of the last states targeted by the Secular Coalition for America, which is creating a state chapter here to lobby state lawmakers in favor of a "strong separation of religion and government."
The coalition set out last summer to create new chapters in 38 states, with the ultimate goal to have 50 state chapters in operation by the end of this year.
Why the flurry of organizing? The trend in religiously influenced legislation - much in evidence in Oklahoma in recent years - is their motivation. "Some of the most egregious violations of church and state separation are being promoted and passed at the state level, and we absolutely must act to stop it," said Edwina Rogers, executive director. "There are 40 million Americans who don't identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized. This year, that changes."
The coalition, which represents 11 member organizations and "nontheistic" Americans, cited another Pew survey done in late 2009 which found that 20 percent of Oklahoma residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 31 percent disagreed that "religion is very important to their lives."
Examples of Oklahoma measures targeted by the coalition include the ban on same-sex marriage, the so-far-unsuccessful personhood measure, and another unsuccessful proposal to expand religious refusal laws to health-care providers.
These lobbyists-to-be will have some new company. Also last week, a bipartisan group of more than 120 state lawmakers from nine states, including Oklahoma, announced the formation of "the nation's first state religious freedom caucuses," according to a report from the Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program, which is behind the effort. The goal of the program is to have religious freedom caucuses in all 50 state legislatures by the end of 2013. According to its website, the ARFP is "fighting the trend to de-legitimize religious expression in public life, defending Americans' ability to live out their religious beliefs beyond the walls of their houses of worship."
The caucuses "will help legislators set state-specific agendas for strengthening religious liberties ... and formulate religious freedom policy based on input from each state's diverse faith communities," according to the program's literature.
Looks like the battle over church-state separation is far from over. If the polarization among Americans continues to grow, it never will be.
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328
Parishioners attend a service at Christ The King Catholic Church. Oklahoma has been targeted by the Secular Coalition for America, which is creating a state chapter here to lobby state lawmakers in favor of a "strong separation of religion and government." CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World file