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Join the discussion: Is there a war on religion?

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 4:31 p.m. MDT

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. peter's Square, at the Vatican,  Wednesday, May 28, 2014.  (Andrew Medichini, Associated Press) Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Andrew Medichini, Associated Press)

People tend to exaggerate their church attendance to appear more socially desirable, a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests. These results, suggesting that most Americans believe claiming church attendance is a positive thing, have inspired interest in the discussion on religious stigma in the U.S.

“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” according to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prepared remarks, reported by Politico. “It threatens the fabric of our communities, the health of our public square and the endurance of our constitutional governance. This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”

Jindal’s sentiments are shared by others, many of whom have worried that the Obama administration in particular is unfriendly towards religion, reports NPR. In a campaign video, Rick Perry referenced Obama’s “war on religion,” and some see Obamacare as anti-religion because it mandates that religiously affiliated charities, hospitals and colleges provide health care plans that include contraceptives, according to NPR.

"When the government said to them, you're going to have to fund contraception, sterilization, in violation of your deeply held religious convictions, the monks at Belmont Abbey College knew that they just couldn't do that," attorney Hannah Smith from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told NPR. "This is not just about health care. This is really about government coercion of religious individuals and institutions."

While some believe that religion is being stigmatized, especially by big government, others are saying that atheists face a much more severe bias, and they use the recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute as evidence.

“When three University of Minnesota sociologists surveyed American religious attitudes in 2006, they found ‘not only that atheists are less accepted than other marginalized groups but also that attitudes toward them have not exhibited the marked increase in acceptance that has characterized views of other racial and religious minorities over the past forty years,’ ” wrote Peter Beinart of the Atlantic. “In a recent Pew study, even nonreligious Americans said they wanted their presidential candidates to be believers — regardless of what faith they profess. Seven states still officially bar atheists from holding office.”

The study, in which people reported higher levels of church attendance when speaking to a person than they did when the results were anonymous, implies that people recognize a lack of religion is viewed unfavorably and adjust accordingly.

“Liberals were more likely to exaggerate their religious attendance than conservatives. Liberals attend services less frequently than conservatives do. Yet their desire to be thought more religiously observant than they actually are is greater,” wrote Beinart. “Why does this matter? Because it’s more evidence that the claim that liberals are waging a ‘war on religion’ is absurd.”

If liberals were truly waging a war on religion, Beinart argues, there would be no such desire to inflate their church attendance.

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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