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Removing the 10 Commandments from Government Buildings

American Attitudes Towards the 10 Commandments


Not many Americans support removing Ten Commandments displays from government buildings (18%) and in fact a significant majority "strongly oppose" that (60%). The number of Christians who support removing the Ten Commandments is even lower than the general population. This is no surprise given the fact that Christians are the ones who are responsible for putting the Ten Commandments in government buildings in the first place.

The one group in which a majority supports removing Ten Commandments displays is nonbelievers — agnostics and atheists (55%).

The next biggest group is Asian-Americans (48%). Every other group checked by Barna comes in at 25% or lower. This suggests that atheists, agnostics, and Asians are the only groups which consistently and strongly oppose attempts to get the government to endorse, support, and promote the Ten Commandments.


Religious Denominations and Removing the 10 Commandments

In May, 2004, Barna conducted a survey in which they asked Americans about how Christianized they want their country to be and one question was wether they support "removing signs that list the Ten Commandments from government buildings." With a margin of error of +/- 2.8%, the results were:

  • All Adults: 18%
  • Evangelicals: less than .5%
  • Non-Evangelical Born Again: 6%
  • Notional Christian: 16%
  • Non-Christian Faith: 32%
  • Atheist / Agnostic: 55%
  • Protestant: 6%
  • Catholic: 18%
  • I suppose it's not too surprising that the number of evangelicals who support removing Ten Commandments displays and keeping government buildings secular is, for all intents and purposes, zero.

    This strongly suggests that, among evangelical Christians in America, there is practically no respect whatsoever for the ideal of keeping the government neutral when it comes to religious matters. It suggests a strong desire among evangelicals to use the government of all the people to favor just one religion.

    Nevertheless, it doesn't appear as though the evangelicals are bringing down the overall average too much. The total for all adults in America is only 18%, but none of the totals for any Christian group (that Barna tells us about) is over 18%. Catholics are the only Christian group at the national average; every other Christian group listed shows less support for removing the Ten Commandments from the government.

    George Barna, Directing Leader of The Barna Group, commented:

    "Most Americans are on the same wavelength when it comes to faith and matters of public policy. Most subgroups of the population lean the same way on each of the matters examined, with the exceptions being Asian-Americans and atheists and agnostics."

    It thus appears that only non-Christians — atheists, agnostics, and adherents of non-Christian religions — are keeping the overall average for Americans generally from being any lower than it already is. This means that non-Christians are indispensable for preserving church/state separation in America.

    I wish Barna had provided numbers for Jews and Muslims as points of comparison. First, they are both religious minorities and as such should be more sensitive to violations of the separation of church and state. Second, the Ten Commandments is ostensibly Jewish in origin, even though the displays which Christians create reflect Christian biases and concerns.


    American Demographics and Removing the Ten Commandments

    Here are the numbers for other demographic groups which Barna found supporting the removal of Ten Commandments displays from government buildings:

  • Men: 23%
  • College Graduates: 25%
  • Adults Under 35: 25%
  • Hispanics: 21%
  • Asians: 48%
  • I wish Barna had provided more complete results from this poll — numbers like these don't mean as much when they aren't presented with the appropriate context. Knowing the number of men who do or do not support something means more, for example, if we also know the number of women who have given the same answer.

    Nevertheless, even these figures taken out of their relevant context still provide us with a little information. It's particularly interesting that the number of Asians who support removing the Ten Commandments from government buildings is so high — not just relative to other ethnic and racial groups, but relative to all other groups that Barna had numbers for. According to Barna, Asians are the only sub-group (except for atheists and agnostics) in which support for removing the Ten Commandments was over 25%.

    Why would that be? Conservative, evangelical Christianity is very strong in some Asian groups (Koreans, specifically), but non-Christian religion could be strong enough in the Asian population generally to create a much higher respect for church/state separation than we see in Christians. Even if that's the case, though, I'm not sure if it's enough because the support for this among Asians is much higher than it is among non-Christians generally.

    An even more important question, though, would be: how do we get more Christians to support secular government that's genuinely neutral in religious matters? How do we get more Christians to support removing Ten Commandments displays or signs from government buildings, thus ensuring that the government isn't promoting, endorsing, or encouraging any particular religion, religious beliefs, or religious scripture? Or is it even possible to get more Christians in America to support this?

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