As White Christian America Shrinks, Supreme Court Steps In
As Robert Barnes of The Washington Post noted in his cover of kennedy, these decisions joined others of the court this session in which religious interests were reinforced. In each case, the interests at stake were Christian: a Baptist pastor, a Christian flag, a Christian coach and Christian private schools.
It’s an unsurprising development from this staunchly conservative (and often openly religious) court. But it’s a question worth considering in the context of broader societal trends. The Supreme Court strengthens Christianity as the United States becomes less religious. It blurs the line between church and state as Republican officials like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) advocate for religion to play more of a role in politics.
This request has a cause. White Christians are a fundamental part of the Republican base of power – and white Christians make up a shrinking part of the country and of the electorate.
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Earlier this month, Gallup published data indicating the extent to which Americans say they believe in God. Most Americans still do – 4 out of 5, to be precise. That’s down from 98% in 1968 (which, if you’re curious, was several years after prayer was banned in schools).
But it’s also an incomplete picture of how Americans view religion. Data from the biannual General Social Survey (GSS) show that while most Americans believe in God, only about half say they believe in God with no doubt.
This follows the increase in the number of Americans who have stepped aside organized religion or just religion. One of the results of this change is that the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as Christians in the ESG fell from around 90% up to 30 years ago to around two-thirds in the most recent survey. .
This is partly because the United States is diversifying in various ways. One way is that the percentage of the country that is white (or, as formally measured by the US government, non-Hispanic white) has declined over the past few decades.
Fewer Christians and fewer white Americans means there are fewer white Christians in the United States. In the most recent GSS survey for which data is available, about half of the country identifies as both white and Christian, up from about 4 in 5 in the late 1970s.
White Christians are still in the majority, as are Christians in general. But that decline no doubt contributes to Republican feelings that Christians are under siege in the United States. In the polls conducted by YouGov in June 2021, 63% of Republicans said Christians face “a lot” or “a good amount” of discrimination — a significantly higher percentage than Hispanics, gay Americans, or black Americans face this degree of discrimination.
None of this is to say that the Supreme Court is explicitly trying to uphold the power of Christians or white American Christians. Rather, it is to re-emphasize that the imbalance in the allocation of power to more rural parts of the country – and therefore to whiter and often more Christian parts of the country – helped Donald Trump become president and Republicans to obtain a majority of the Senate. This, in turn, helped build a strong conservative majority at court that reflected a sympathy for allowing overlap between governmental power and religion. And Christianity.
The reaction from the right to recent court rulings has been largely enthusiastic.