Comparing data over time is key element
"The most valuable thing about this study is the ability to compare data over time,'' said sociologist and Glenmary Research Center Director Kenneth M. Sanchagrin. "Comparing and contrasting the 2000 data to 1990 data allows conclusions to be drawn about areas of religious growth from the county level to the national level."
The study asked 285 denominations for data and received numbers from 149 - 139 Christian denominations, associations or communion groups; Jewish and Islamic estimates; and counts of temples for six Eastern religions. The Christian groups include the Church of Jesus- Christ of Latter-day Saints and Unitarian/Universalist groups, and two specially defined groups of independent Christian churches.
In 2000, Glenmary researchers changed the scope of their survey, which had previously been limited to Christian and Jewish denominations. The survey now is a better reflection of the United States' religious diversity and for the first time includes Muslims, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Baha'is, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists and Buddhists.
The First Amendment has kept religion out of any government-sponsored census since the 1940s.
The U.S. government included religious bodies in its censuses from 1850 until 1936, according to Presbyterian Church (USA) researcher John P. Marcum. The U.S. Census Bureau canceled the program in 1946, in part because of opposition from Christian Scientists, who are opposed to enumeration.
Interest in asking a religious question on the census grew in the 1950s and the Census Bureau in 1956 announced it would consider a religion question on the 1960 census, Marcum said. While social scientists were pleased, opposition emerged from the American Civil Liberties Union and some religious groups that argued a religion question would violate the First Amendment provision mandating separation of church and state.
The issue was hotly debated, and on Oct. 15, 1957, the Census Bureau announced it would not include a religion question on the census, according to Marcum's research. Many people since then have advocated a religion question on the census, but so far the bureau has not included one.
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. decided to respond and published what became known as the "Church Membership Study." It used 1952 data and is now out of print.
The Glenmary Research Center, a Catholic group, was founded in 1966 and got involved in publishing subsequent editions of the study in 1971, 1980, 1990 and now in 2000.
Beginning in 1990 the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies began coordinating the study with support from the Lily Endowment, Inc.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at email@example.com.
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