It’s hard to know what to make of these results, but a recent Huffington Post/YouGov survey reveals that roughly one-third of Americans would favor amending the Constitution to make Christianity the nation’s official religion. A similar percentage would favor making Christianity the official religion of their own state.
As Walter Russell Mead notes, there’s a lot of ambiguity here. What would it mean for “Christianity” to be the “official religion”? Given the very strong non-denominationalism in American religious life, I have to assume respondents envisioned something like “Christianity-in-General,” or “Mere Christianity,” rather than any specific Christian communion. As to “official religion,” I doubt respondents had in mind a thoroughgoing establishment in which the state pays clergy salaries out of tax revenues. Most probably, respondents were thinking of mild endorsements of the sort traditional in American life. “In God We Trust,” for example.
One intriguing interpretation of the poll appears in the Huffington Post article itself. By calling for an official religion, respondents may simply be expressing frustration with what they see as an anti-religious theme in American public life. Saying one supports an “official religion” may be way to manifest one’s sense that America has gone too far in erasing its Christian heritage from public life:
The relatively high level of support for establishing Christianity as a state religion may be reflective of dissatisfaction with the current balance of religion and politics. Respondents to the poll were more likely to say that the U.S. has gone too far in keeping religion and government separate than they were to say religion and government are too mixed, by a 37-29 percent margin. Only 17 percent said that the country has struck a good balance in terms of the separation of church and state.
In other words, respondents don’t want a Church of America. They just want the Easter Bunny.