Use of Schools for Student Religious Meetings Is Acceptable to Most Americans

by Lydia Saad

Classroom prayer is the more divisive issue

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Should student religious groups be allowed to hold their after-school meetings on public school grounds? The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments this week in a case involving this separation of church and state question, and while lower courts have issued conflicting rulings on the issue, the answer is clear for most Americans. According to a Gallup poll conducted Feb. 9-11, 72% of Americans favor the use of schools for this purpose while just 26% are opposed.

Not only is there widespread public support for opening school doors to religious groups, but -- unlike the issue of school prayer -- it is relatively non-controversial among Americans. At least two-thirds or more of most major population sub-groups find it acceptable for faith-based student groups to meet on public school grounds. This includes 69% of adults living in the East as well as 77% in the South. It includes 74% of those with a college degree and 68% of those who never attended college. It also includes 67% of Americans who describe their political views as "liberal," as well as 74% of self-described conservatives.

The specific case before the Supreme Court involves The Good News Club of Milford, New York, an organization that is suing the local school district for preventing the group from using school facilities for their regular meetings. The group says it is a Christian-based moral instruction program, using the Bible, Christian songs and prayer as the basis for values education, but school officials say the meetings are "the equivalent of religious worship." The Supreme Court ruling is expected to clarify contradictory rulings from lower courts about whether public schools must accommodate religious worship.

Prayer in Schools Is More Controversial
The new Gallup poll finds that Americans, overall, are generally tolerant of several possible religious activities that might be carried out on school grounds. In addition to the 72% who support making public school facilities available after hours for student religious groups, 80% believe students should be allowed to recite a spoken prayer at school graduations, and two thirds (66%) think spoken prayer should be allowed in the classroom. Public attitudes on these issues have changed little since Gallup first asked these particular questions in 1999.

However, unlike the use of school buildings for religious groups -- which is widely supported across all demographic groups -- the matter of prayer in public schools generates substantial resistance from some quarters. In particular, prayer in the classroom has significant opposition within the ranks of upper educated Americans (50% oppose it), as well as among liberals (46%) and those living outside the South (40%). By contrast, nearly three-quarters of those without a college education support it (72%), as do 79% of conservatives and 81% of Southern residents.

Prayer spoken by students at graduation ceremonies as part of the official program tends to be highly supported by groups that tend to favor religion in schools (conservatives, Southerners and those with no college background). However, unlike prayer in the classroom, it does not generate particularly high opposition from other groups.

 


Total


South


Non-
South

College grad-
uate

No college edu-
cation


"Lib-
eral"

"Moder-
ate"

"Con-
serva-
tive"

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Use School Facilities for Religious Groups

               

Favor

72

77

70

74

68

67

72

74

Oppose

26

21

29

25

30

33

27

23

                 

Daily Prayer in the Classroom

               

Favor

66

81

59

50

72

53

62

79

Oppose

34

19

40

50

28

46

38

20

                 

Graduation Speech Prayers

               

Favor

80

93

74

71

85

68

78

90

Oppose

20

7

25

28

15

32

22

10

Americans Want Higher Profile for Religion in Schools
A separate question asked in the new poll finds that not only do Americans favor various religious activities within the school context but, more generally, they would like to see religion have a greater influence in schools. Sixty-two percent of Americans, overall, say religion has too little of a presence in public schools right now while 30% think it has the right amount of influence and just 8% think it has too much influence.

But like prayer in schools, the issue sharply divides some Americans, with college graduates, liberals and Americans outside the South being far less likely than their counterparts to favor expanding the role of religion in public schooling.

 


Total


South


Non-
South

College grad-
uate

No college edu-
cation


"Lib-
eral"

"Moder-
ate"

"Con-
serva-
ative"

   

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Influence of Religion

               

Too much

7

5

8

9

4

19

5

3

About right

28

22

31

40

19

31

36

19

Too little

63

72

59

48

76

47

58

77

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,016 adults, 18 years and older, conducted February 9-11, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next I'm going to read a variety of proposals concerning religion and public schools. For each one, please tell me whether you would generally favor or oppose it. First, ... Next, ... [RANDOM ORDER]

BASED ON – 529 – NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±4 PCT. PTS.

Making public school facilities available after school hours for use by student religious groups

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 Feb 9-11

72

26

2

       

1999 Jun 25-27

78

21

1



Allowing daily prayer to be spoken in the classroom

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 Feb 9-11

66

34

*

       

2000 Sep 11-13

68

30

2

1999 Jun 25-27

70

28

2

       

*Less than 0.5%

     


Allowing students to say prayers at graduation ceremonies as part of the official program

 

Favor

Oppose

No opinion

 

%

%

%

2001 Feb 9-11

80

20

*

       

2000 Sep 11-13

77

21

2

1999 Jun 25-27

83

17

*

       

*Less than 0.5%

     


Thinking about the presence that religion currently has in public schools in this country, do you think religion has – [ROTATED: too much of a presence in public schools, about the right amount, (or) too little of a presence in public schools]?

BASED ON – 487 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±4 PCT. PTS.

 

Too much
of a presence

About the
right amount

Too little
of a presence

No
opinion

         

2001 Feb 9-11

7%

28

63

2



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