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Americans Support Separation In Theory More Than Practice, Politics Scholar Asserts.

Americans support church-state separation and religious liberty more in theory than in practice, a political science professor says.

Ted Jelen, a scholar at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said his research has led him to conclude, "There is widespread support for the idea of religious freedom as a symbol, but many Americans are quite willing to restrict the actual religious liberty of specific groups considered dangerous or strange."

According to the Associated Baptist Press, Jelen presented his findings during the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Houston last November. During his remarks, he noted that "a great many Americans would deny so-called Moonies or Satanists the right to recruit among high school students or deny Native Americans the right to use hallucinogenic drugs as part of religious rituals."

When it comes to the wall of separation between church and state, Jelen reported that many Americans say they endorse a high wall but don't necessarily put it in to practice. "Large majorities of respondents in opinion surveys in the United States endorse such concepts as a 'high wall' of separation between church and state," Jelen reported. "However, many Americans are also supportive of particular public support for religion, such as organized school prayer, public displays of religious symbols -- especially during the Christmas season -- and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. Many citizens of the United States appear to experience little tension between these attitudes."

Through his work with focus groups, however, Jelen found that people adopt a more separationist perspective when told that all religions would have the same rights under certain types of church-state partnerships.

For example, many people supported school prayer but were not enthusiastic about the idea of non-Christian or unpopular religions having the right to take part in a rotating system whereby prayers were read from Christian and non-Christian traditions. That idea, Jelen said, "was rejected with virtual unanimity."

Jelen noted that many Americans still have had little experience with "genuine religious diversity" and as a result tend to assume that if church and state join forces, their own church will benefit.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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