Religion and politics create volatile issues in many parts of the world and have been intensely debated in America. Recent charges and counter-charges about “godless humanists” and “religious zealots” have been heated. With an election campaign underway, the subject of religion in public life remains a potential iceberg issue of 1988 — massive but submerged. On the eve of the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, it is plain that controversies about religion in public life are as lively and potent today as when the First Amendment was being debated nearly 200 years ago.
But how do the American people view the place of religion in public life today? Is there a vital knowledge of the Constitution? Where do Americans currently draw the line between church and state? Are there significant limits to tolerance? Are there important differences between the general public and key leadership groups? Is there less religious tolerance today than 20 or 30 years ago?
To answer such questions and help assess the state of the union regarding religion and public life, the Williamsburg Charter Foundation commissioned a nationwide opinion survey. The purpose of the study was to learn how people view these issues 200 years into the American experiment. The motive was not to find out simply what the majority wants changed or restricted. After all, the Bill of Rights was written to guarantee the rights of minorities against the will of the majority.