Our first ever viewpoint analysis of the American Secular Census

The first American Secular Census viewpoint analysis reveals a population which is clearly unified in some areas and somewhat divided elsewhere; strictly separationist on some issues and fairly accommodationist in others.

The snapshot below is based on statistics calculated during the month of March 2012. It should be noted that the size of the Census registry must be increased before analysis of this type can be considered authoritative. At present, we are publishing periodic snapshots of data collected since our launch on Nov. 7, 2011. In selected categories, minority statistics are cited for deeper context.

Note: the analysis here forms the basis of the Platform of the American Secular Mainstream, where teams will evaluate 2012 candidates on these principles and endorse those committed to secular values.


  • Two issues earned near-unanimous (96%+) consensus among respondents: support for full marriage equality as a national standard and taxing religious groups on their real estate holdings equally with other non-profits.
  • More than half of respondents oppose government funding of religious organizations that provide social services, but another 40%+ adopt the more accommodationist attitude that religious groups be treated equally with other types of non-profits.
  • More than 4:1, respondents prefer diversifying the military chaplain corps with specifically humanist or secular chaplains vs. eliminating chaplains entirely.
  • There is little to no support for public school science teachers discussing creationism and intelligent design, but almost 40% are willing to see these topics raised in myth or literature units outside the science classroom. Almost 3:1, respondents feel sex education should be mandatory for public school students vs. the common practice of allowing parents to opt their students out of sex ed units.
  • Overall, there is near-unanimous support for abortion rights, but this group is split between those who favor reasonable restrictions on gestational stage (a slight majority) and those who want abortion regulated only to the extent any medical procedure would be.

In keeping with our culture of privacy, the information below was calculated from values queried directly from database tables which do not contain visible identifying information such as name, username, or e-mail address.

Civic exercises of religion

Civic religion is opposed by a majority of Census respondents whether in the form of government invocations or religious symbols on public property. In both cases, most respondents disagreeing with the majority view (statistics unposted) took the accommodationist position that civic religion is acceptable when balanced by secular viewpoints.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of civic exercises of religion, such as invocations at government meetings?

    87.4% - There should be no civic exercises of religion.
  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of religious symbols on public property?

    73.5% - Religious symbols should not be accommodated on public property.

Evolution and science education

Within both the secular and the scientific communities there is no controversy about the legitimacy of evolutionary theory in explaining the diversity of life. Secular Census respondents oppose the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes, but a non-trivial minority feel there is a place for these discussions as myth or literature.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about the teaching of creationism and/or "intelligent design" in public schools?

    60.2% - Creationism and intelligent design have no place in any public school classroom.

    39.1% - If creationism and intelligent design are taught, they should be presented as myth or literature in non-science classes.

Government funding of religion

The "faith-based initiative" launched via executive order of former Pres. George W. Bush remains operational in the form of President Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This program of providing government grants to religious and other organizations to deliver social services has been criticized for lax oversight, religious discrimination, and political patronage. Almost 58% of Census registrants are opposed to tax revenues being granted to religious groups at all while another 42% prefer a program that allows religious groups to participate yet holds them accountable to the same rules applied to others. In the same vein, Census registrants would like to see religious organizations pay real estate taxes wherever non-profits do.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of tax funded government grants being awarded to religious organizations that provide social services?

    57.7% - Religious organizations should not be eligible for government funding.

    42% - Religious organizations should be eligible for government funding if they are held to the same standards as other organizations.
  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of taxing religious organizations on their real estate holdings?

    97% - Property taxes for religious organizations should be no different than those of other non-profits.

Marriage equality

This month's 96% figure is just slightly down from our first look at this issue in mid-February. See the analysis at Secular Americans support marriage equality as nationwide standard for more detail about alternatives rejected by Census registrants, such as civil unions and state-level marriage laws.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about gay couples marrying?

    96% - Gay couples should be able to marry in all states.

Recreational drugs

Over 92% of respondents favor some level of drug law reform, with an almost even split between those who want all recreational drugs legalized and regulated and those who feel legalization should depend on the drug. As the Census grows, a breakdown this close may shift back and forth.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about recreational drugs?

    43.0% - Recreational drugs should be legal and regulated by government.

    40.3% - Some recreational drugs should be legalized and others should be illegal.

    08.8% - Recreational drugs should be legal and unregulated.

Religion in public schools

In matters of instruction, Census registrants take a fairly accommodationist view of topics related to religion and secularism; 63% feel this material should be presented in public schools so long as a balanced, unbiased approach is used. The stereotypical stance most associated with the secular community -- that public schools should aggressively promote secularism at religion's expense -- actually represents the tiniest minority of respondents at just over 12%. Predictably, school-sponsored prayer is opposed by virtually all (99.7%) respondents, although slightly more than 1 in 5 are open to official minutes of silence.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of public schools' treatment of the influence of both religion and secularism on art, history, science, literature, and other subject matter?

    63.6% - Religious topics should be taught in an unbiased manner and should be balanced by related secular topics.

    17.6% - Public schools should avoid teaching about religion and secularism.

    12.1% - Public schools should avoid teaching about religion but should cover secular influences and notable secular people.
  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of school-sponsored prayer in public education?

    77.9% - School-sponsored prayer has no place in public education.

    21.8% - School-sponsored prayer should not occur, but official minutes of silence when students can pray/meditate privately are fine.

Religion in the military

Census registrants who would remove chaplains from the U.S. military altogether are in the minority at just 16%. More than 2/3 of respondents prefer to see secular or humanist chaplains serving alongside traditionally religious ones.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion of military chaplains?

    66.9% - Both religious and specifically secular or humanist chaplains should serve in the military.

    16.1% - There should be no chaplains in the military.

    11.1% - An all-religious chaplain corps is fine as long as they're trained and required to meet the needs of secular military personnel.
  • Related: of service members who are/were completely, mostly, or selectively open about their secularism in the military,

    46.2% - have been proselytized by peers

    28.2% - have been proselytized by chaplains or commanding officers

    23% - have been harassed or threatened by peers

    15.4% - have been harassed or threatened by chaplains or commanding officers

    7.7% - have experienced career obstacles

    5.1% - have been assaulted by peers

    2.6% - have been assaulted by chaplains or commanding officers

Reproductive rights

The stereotypical "abortion on demand" position actually appears to be a minority view among Secular Americans. While over 97% of Census registrants favor abortion rights, at present a narrow majority do want to see reasonable restrictions based on gestational stage. This balance of viewpoints bears watching as the Census grows.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about abortion?

    51.2% - Abortion should be legal but with reasonable restrictions on gestational stage.

    46.4% - Abortion should be legal without any restrictions beyond those applied to any other medical procedure.

Sex education

Secular Americans' support for age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education in public schools is unsurprising. A majority of Census registrants feel strongly enough about students' need for this information, in fact, that they object to parental opt-out provisions.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about sex education in public schools?

    73.2% - Age-appropriate sex education should be a mandatory part of public school curriculum.

    25.1% - Age-appropriate sex education should be in the curriculum but parents should have the right to opt their children out.

Tuition vouchers for private schools

Just under 69% of Census registrants object to tax funding of any private school tuition. Only 21% take the more relaxed position that private schools without a religious affiliation or mission should be eligible for voucher programs -- suggesting that the secular community doesn't object to taxpayer support of religious instruction so much as it favors public funds going to public education.

  • Which of these statements best describes your opinion about tax-funded private school tuition vouchers?

    68.2% - Private school tuition should not be subsidized by the taxpayer.

    21.1% - Private school tuition vouchers are fine if they are restricted to schools without a religious affiliation or mission.

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