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Utah trails Southern states in religion survey

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Wade Budge, holding his daughter Reagan, walks ahead of his wife, Stephanie, and daughter, Ellie, as the family leaves Sunday services at the Parley's LDS stake center.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Utah is a leading state for worship service attendance and, when compared to its United States counterparts, is also well above average in frequency of prayer, importance of religion and certainty of belief of God.

However, it trails many Southern states in rankings released Monday by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Acknowledging the different ways to define "religious," the Pew Forum took the data compiled from the more than 35,000 adults polled nationwide in its 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey and ranked states on four measures:

 Importance of religion in people's lives.

 Frequency of attendance at worship services.

 Frequency of prayer.

 Absolute certainty of belief in God.

The state of Mississippi topped each of the four measures, with the upper dozen in the rankings dominated by states from the Bible Belt spanning most of the South.

Utah, with its predominant Mormon population, ranked in the top 12 in all four rankings — second in worship service attendance, 10th in both frequency of prayer and certainty of belief in God, and 12th in overall importance of religion.

"Importance of religion" was based on the percentage of survey participants who say religion is very important in their lives. Leading the rankings was Mississippi, with 82 percent of the state's participants acknowledging religion's importance in their lives. Utah was 12th with 66 percent, above the national average of 56 percent.

Utah ranked second in worship service attendance, with 57 percent of those polled in the state saying they attend religious services at least once a week. Mississippi led the rankings at 60 percent, with the national average being 39 percent.

Prayer frequency was measured by those acknowledging they pray at least once day. Utah ranked 10th at 67 percent, with Mississippi's high at 77 percent and the national average at 58 percent.

While more than 90 percent of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey participants said they believe in God or in a universal spirit, 71 percent said they are "absolutely certain" in their belief. Mississippi topped the states with 91 percent, with Utah 10th at 80 percent.

States are ranked from No. 1 to 46, with those having sample sizes too small to analyze being combined — such as North Dakota/South Dakota, Connecticut/Rhode Island, New Hampshire/ Vermont, Montana/Wyoming, and Maryland/District of Columbia.

With its No. 1 ranking in all four measures, Mississippi leads all states with a 1.0 average, with Alabama (3.25), South Carolina (3.75), Louisiana (4.0) and Tennessee (5.25) comprising the top five in average ranking over the Pew Forum's four measures.

Rounding out the second five: Utah is eighth with a 9.5 average over the four rankings, trailing Arkansas (5.75) and Kentucky (8.25) but ahead of North Carolina (8.75) and Oklahoma (9.75).

New Hampshire/Vermont is lowest with a 45.0 averaging ranking, with the bottom five including Alaska (44.75), Maine (44.25), Connecticut/Rhode Island (42.5) and Massachusetts (42.25).

For more on the report, go to pewforum.org.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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