Published on January 25, 1996 by Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. Backgrounder #1064
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By extolling freedom of religion in the schools, President Bill Clinton has raised the level of debate on the importance of religion to American life.3 The time is ripe for a deeper dialogue on the contribution of religion to the welfare of the nation.
America has always been a religious country. "Its first Christian inhabitants were only too anxious to explain what they were doing and why," explains historian Paul Johnson. "In a way the first American settlers were like the ancient Israelites. They saw themselves as active agents of divine providence."4 Today, he adds, "it is generally accepted that more than half the American people still attend a place of worship over a weekend, an index of religious practice unequaled anywhere in the world, certainly in a great and populous nation."5
At the heart of religious practice is prayer: Americans pray even more than they go to church. According to a composite of surveys, 94 percent of blacks, 91 percent of women, 87 percent of whites, and 85 percent of men regard themselves as people who pray regularly. Some 78 percent pray at least once per week, and 57 percent pray daily. Even among the 13 percent of the population who call themselves agnostics or atheists, some 20 percent pray daily.6
When policymakers consider America's grave social problems, including violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency, they should heed the findings in the professional literature of the social sciences on the positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion.7
For example, there is ample evidence that:
• The strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion. Churchgoers8 are more likely to be... [continues]
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