By a wide margin, American voters say it’s OK to have prayer in official, public meetings.
In a national survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, 73% percent of voters say “prayer at public meetings is fine as long as the public officials are not favoring some beliefs over others.” Just one-quarter (23%) say “public meetings shouldn’t have any prayers at all because prayers by definition suggest one belief or another.” Republicans are significantly more likely to favor public prayer (88%-10%) than Democrats, but even Democrats by a large margin say prayer should be allowed (60%-36%). The national survey showed no significant differences between men and women, whites and nonwhites, or in different age groups.
“This has always been a praying nation, despite its very secular Constitution,” said Peter J. Woolley, professor of comparative politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “People generally see generic prayer as harmless, if not uplifting, not as something that is oppressive.”
The US Supreme Court will rule soon on the case of Town of Greece vs. Galloway, sparked by the practice in the New York state’s town of Greece to use rotating clergyman to offer prayers at council meetings, and those clergymen were overwhelmingly Christian, as were their prayers. Since the lawsuit was filed in 2008, the town has become more diverse in its prayers and participants.
“An overwhelming number of Americans are upset by two things,” said Woolley, “not being allowed to pray, and someone insisting that that only their prayer is legitimate.”
The university-based research center conducted the national poll as part of its Project on Popular Constitutionalism, designed to assess voter attitudes about the Constitution and its competing values. The Project focused on three prominent cases considered by the highest court this year: Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, Town of Greece v. Galloway , and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted the national poll of 883 registered voters by telephone with both landline and cell phones from December 9 through December 15, 2013. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.3 percentage points.