In a new study of President Obama’s legacy, the Pew Research Center found that religious affiliation and practice dropped off dramatically during his two terms in the White House.
“When it comes to the nation’s religious identity, the biggest trend during Obama’s presidency is the rise of those who claim no religion at all,” Pew notes in a report released this week titled “How America Changed During Barack Obama’s Presidency.”
When Barack Obama took office, those who identified as atheists or agnostics along with those who said their religion was “nothing in particular” totaled only 16 percent of the U.S. adult population. On leaving office 8 years later, the non-religious in America now make up nearly a quarter of the population.
On the contrary, the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, consider religion to be very important in their lives, pray daily and attend religious services at least monthly have all dropped during the Obama years, Pew found.
America’s largest religious demographic, those who self-identify as Christians, plunged from 78 percent of the U.S. adult population to 71 percent 8 years later, and the majority of these losses taken place among adults who identify with mainline Protestantism and Catholicism. Evangelical Protestantism along with historically black Christian denominations have remained comparably stable.
During his 8 years as president, Obama nettled religious conservatives over and over with moves that seemed calculated to undermine religious liberty.
According to Tim Schultz, the president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, the Obama administration often viewed religion as an enemy standing in the way of their policy objectives.
“They view religious freedom as a kind of inconvenient speed bump on the way to those objectives in some way,” Schultz said.
Last spring, the Obama administration angered many conservatives with a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Justice and Department of Education mandating that public schools had to allow students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.
The most egregious example of the Obama administration’s hostility to religion was what has been called “Obama’s War Against Little Sisters of the Poor.” The Obama administration claimed it had the power to compel church groups to provide abortion-related products and services, and tried to bully the Little Sisters—an order of Catholic nuns—into offering these services against their beliefs.
But the administration’s antipathy toward religious freedom became more explicit still in a 2016 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) attacking religious liberty as a guise for discrimination.
In the rollout of the report, Obama-appointed chairman, Martin R. Castro, stated that religious liberty was simply a justification for bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.
Castro claimed that the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.”
The Chairman further declared that “today, as in past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality.”
“We now see ‘religious liberty’ arguments sneaking their way back into our political and constitutional discourse,” Castro said, “in an effort to undermine the rights of some Americans.”
The USCCR’s report “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties” proposed to examine the various legal and constitutional issues that arise when anti-discrimination laws and religious liberty come into conflict.
In its “Findings and Recommendations,” the report sided firmly with anti-discrimination laws over religious liberty, declaring that civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination are of “preeminent importance” in American jurisprudence, whereas religious exemptions “significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
The Commission also stated that religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be “defined narrowly.”
In its majority statement, the Commissioners warned that threats to civil liberties, “cloaked as ‘religious freedom’ protection bills, are emerging in dozens of states and localities across the nation.”
Thomas D. Williams