02/27/2008 - When it comes to religion, Americans tend to behave like the individualists they are in other things. In the USA's marketplace of ideas, 44% of adults have either switched or dropped religious affiliation, according to a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. While to some that might suggest a crisis of faith, there's another, more positive, interpretation.
America's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom invites a diversity of faiths. This attracts more believers and encourages movement toward churches that respond to the needs of their congregants. That dynamism, in turn, has spawned a mutual tolerance. In fact, almost four in every 10 married people have spouses of different religious affiliation.
The picture in the Pew study released Monday, one of the largest ever of religion in America, would have been applauded by the Founders, who took great care to enshrine the separation of church and state among the First Amendment freedoms. And it would hardly have come as a surprise to Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville who, during his 19th century travels throughout America, marveled at the number of religious sects, their open-mindedness and the focus on morality almost to the exclusion of doctrine.
But what's particularly striking is how important religious diversity and dynamism remain today.
Read the complete opinion piece Freedom of Choice Underlies USA's Religious Vibrancy on USA Today's Web site.