The founding generation of Americans during the revolutionary period were not especially religious. The leadership was comprised mostly of nominal Anglicans, lukewarm or lapsed adherents of the Reformation churches, deists, Freemasons, and (probably) some closet atheists. A few, like Patrick Henry, were low church pietists associated with the “Great Awakening,” which was most popular among the lower classes. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister.
By Christopher White
NEW YORK — While American religiosity may be in rapid decline, a new study reveals that the United States remains more religious than many other countries and is presently more religious than at many other times in its own history.
Further, the study posits that the social, political, and legal environment in the country has become less hospitable to all religions over the last 75 years and argues that decreased religiosity can be attributed to more secularized education and a decline in marriage.
The study, “Promise and Peril: The History of American Religiosity and its Recent Decline” was released on April 30 by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and is authored by Lyman Stone, an AEI adjunct fellow and a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies.
Stone says that America’s decline in religiosity is not evidence of a change in personal preferences, but rather a number of specific policy choices.
In the realm of education, he notes that the rise of the Blaine Amendments in the 19th century, which prohibited direct government aid to religious educational institutions, greatly contributed to widespread loss of religious influence through schools.
Blaine Amendments, which began as an effort by Protestants to limit Catholic influence on society, specifically through education,“ began as discrimination ended as secularization,” writes Stone.