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What Americans say about…

Does religious study belong in public schools?

Majorities say schools should offer classes in Bible studies and comparative religions, with small percentages of Americans saying they should be required. Evangelical Christians are the most supportive of offering Bible studies in schools and the most concerned that comparative religion courses could cause their child to question their family’s faith.

A recent trend toward including Bible studies in public high schools wins majority support in the 2019 PDK poll, with the provision that Bible studies should be an elective, not a requirement. Support is higher for including comparative religion classes, also as an elective.

Specifically, among all adults, 58% say schools should offer Bible studies as an elective, and 6% say Bible studies should be required, totaling 64% who favor Bible classes in one of these formats. Sixty-eight percent of parents say the same, as do 58% of teachers.

Support for Bible studies in the public schools peaks at 82% among evangelical Christians, 78% of Republicans, and 76% of conservatives, compared with 51% of Democrats and 43% of liberals. (It’s 59% among independents and 67% among moderates.) Among Democrats, there’s a racial and ethnic division — 67% of Black Democrats support Bible studies, compared with 52% of Latinx Democrats and 45% of White Democrats. Support also is 10 percentage points higher in rural areas than in cities or suburbs — 72% vs. 62%.

I like the idea of Bible studies being offered. If you do that, you have to offer other comparative religion classes.

Michael, 43, White father of three in suburban Texas

About 4 in 10 Americans — 38% — express concern that Bible studies may improperly promote Judeo-Christian religious beliefs. This concern is shared by majorities of liberals (58%) and Democrats (55%), compared with 28% of evangelicals, one-quarter of conservatives, and about 2 in 10 Republicans. Support for offering Bible studies, naturally, plummets among those who are especially concerned that they might improperly promote Judeo-Christian beliefs.

2019 Bible Studies Classes

More people favor offering comparative religion classes (again with single digits saying they should be required) — 77% of all adults and 76% of parents, rising to 87% of teachers. Support for comparative religion classes is high across groups, including 81% among evangelical Christians, and with no meaningful political or ideological gaps. Support ranges from 71% of those who haven’t gone beyond high school to 86% of Americans with a postgraduate degree.

I am opposed to a class that solely concentrates on Bible study. I am, however, for a comparative religion class in which all religions and even non-religions are spoken of and depicted fairly.

Jennifer, 35, Hispanic kindergarten teacher in rural New Jersey

About one-quarter of adults and parents overall express concerns that comparative religion classes might lead students to question their family’s faith or to change their religious beliefs. Concerns about ill effects of comparative religion classes are lowest among teachers, expressed by about 1 in 7. They are highest among evangelical adults; 37% are concerned these classes could lead to students questioning their family’s faith, and 35% say they could lead students to change their religious beliefs. The same concern is repeated by evangelical Christian parents, with 34% saying they are concerned these classes could lead to students questioning their family’s faith, and 33% saying they could lead students to change their religious beliefs.

2019 Comparative Religion Classes

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