The Role of Church-State Conflict in Vitality of Secular Activism and Membership by Paul Perl and Richard Cimino* A paper prepared for presentation at the 2009 meeting of the Association

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The Role of Church
-
State Conflict in Vitality of Secular Activism and Membership


by Paul Perl and Richard Cimino*





A paper prepared for presentation at the 2009 meeting of the Association

of

the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture, Washington, DC



Abstract


Scholars
have long been interes
ted in explaining variation in commitment to

religious
groups. Only recently ha
ve

they begun to explore commitment to organizations that promote
secularism

(“free
-
thought”
or

separation of church and state)
.

W
e

examine how
co
mpetition
with the religious right and conflict with

the state
affect membership in such organizations.
Economic theories of religion predict that
people
will
display

heightened

commitment to their
religious group
when the group faces
compe
tition
.

T
his reasoning can be extended to

organizations

that promote secularism, as they are broadly part of the same “market” as religious
organizations. In contrast, resource

mobilization

theory from the social mo
vement

literature
predicts that

activis
t group

participation will be greatest in contexts of local strength.


Our
dependent variables are county
-
level membership rates in
two n
ational organizations that
advocate
separation of church and state.
Analyses
lend some

support
to
the predictions of
r
esource
mobilization
theory. Membership

rates tend

to be lower in states where non
-
Christians
ha
ve file
d

high numbers of lawsuits to protect their religious freedoms
.

Rates also tend

to be

lower in
counties that vote
Republican.

However,

membership

rate
s

for one organization

do

tend
to be
higher

in states
that have had
ballot initiatives on
“culture wars” issues
. This
suggest
s

that
secular
ist

membership can be activated when people

are
forced to confront secular
-
religious
conflict.










*Paul Perl,
Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University,
pmp2@georgetown.edu


Richard Cimino, Ecologies of Learning, New York Theological Seminary, relwatch1@msn.com



1

There are probably over 100,000 Americans who belong to

formal

organization
s that
promote

the

non
-
religious
,

“free
-
thought” values
of

atheism, agnosticism, rationality,
skepticism,

humanis
m
, and so forth

(
Pasquale

2005
)
.

T
h
eir members constitute perhaps
one
half to
two

percent

of the U.S. population that is highly irreligious, t
hat is, who identify as having no
religion
and

who

also

display v
ery little religious belief or behavior

(Pasquale

2005
).
There
may
be

close to another 50,000

people

who belong to organizations that
, while neutral on the validity
of religion, are

dedi
cate
d specifically to
fighting governmental support for religion
.

And the
se
individuals

probably

represent an even smaller proportion of the population
that is

broadly
sympathetic to separation of church and state (Jelen

and Wilcox 1995
).

We label
these vari
ous
types of
organizations

as, collectively,


secularist
.” Under what conditions is a person who is
either irreligious or distrustful of government
al support for

religion likely to
join

one?


Scholars have only recently begun to examine involvement in
sec
ular
ist

group
s (Cimino
and Smith

2007;

Pasquale

2005, 2006
). By

contrast, scholars have

long been interested

in
the
reasons that people join and contribute to religious groups
. In particular there has been
considerable debate on
whether
c
ompetit
ion

incre
ases or decreases average levels of
commitment

to religious groups

(
e.g., Bruce 2002; Stark and Finke 2000
).

We apply this
question to the case of membership in groups that
promote secularism.
Almost by definition,

these organizations
place themselves in

competition

with religious groups, whether by
attempting to dissuade members of the public from religious belief or
attempting
to limit
advantages that religion

receive
s

from the state.

We
discuss

several perspectives

from the fields
of religion and
soci
al movements
, including the secularization, supply
-
side, subgroup identity,
and resource mobilization
theori
e
s
.

The
y yield

two contrasting predictions: that
greater
competition

from religion

will tend to increase

involvement in

secularist

groups

and that
greater
competition will tend to inhibit such involvement.


We test these predictions using

county
-
level
membership rates for

two

large

U.S.
organizations that advocate strict separation of church and state.

One is

non
-
theist
(
actively
promoting

the value
s of

atheism and agnosticism). The other is non
-
sectarian and takes no
position on the validity of
any
particular religion or religion generally.

We conceptualize high
rates of membership in these organizations as reflecting high levels of commitment amo
ng the
portion of th
e population that is either ir
religious or
opposed

to

the promotion of

religion
by the
government
.
The

independent variables are coun
ty
-

and state
-
level measures
that reflect
competition and

potential

threat to secularism from the reli
gious right
and

from the state
.



S
ocial Theory and Secular
ist

Activism


The idea that religious groups are in competition with one another is neither new nor
limited to one particular theoretical perspective. Rather
,

academic debate on the topic of
rel
igious competition is about implications for t
h
e strength of religious organizations

and for the
beliefs and commitment of individuals. Secularization theory

holds that religious beliefs in the
modern world are fragile constructs because they require peop
le to place faith in extraordinary,
non
-
provable claims about the supernatural

(Berger 1967)
.

Sustaining
such
beliefs requires that

members of

a religious group

collectively

shield
the
mselves fro
m alternative viewpoints,
allowing
their
religion to develop

a taken
-
for
-
granted
quality

(Berger

1967
)
.


M
o
dern society

2

makes this task difficult for many reasons, most especially because
of the separation of church
and state. Governments no longer confer legitimacy on religions,
undermining the sense of
unquestio
ned truth they seek to achieve
. Furthermore
religious

disestablishment fosters

religious
pluralism.
Barring

extreme self
-
segregation of groups like the Amish, a pluralistic environment
forces
an individual

to
interact

with
people

whose
religious beliefs
conflict with their own

(Bruce
2002
). This in turn fosters

doubt (Bruce

2002
)
.
Faced with competing religious claims,
most
people
choose

not

one particular

set of religious

belief
s

among many

but
no belief at all.


Thus, secularization theory tends to
predict that
overt competition leads

to

weakness
among all competing religious groups.

Those who

favor

the theory find

support in the

weak
state of religion in many
developed
nations (
especially

western Europe
)
.

However s
ecularization
theory
, while predi
cting why people
lose their religion
,

tends not to explain why
become

might
become active in promoting

secularism as a cause.
It

implicitly
treat
s

secularism as the absence
of
religion

or

even

religious indifference
,

not a

positive

value to be ch
ampioned

at least not
beyond the initial historical movements of socialism or liberal democracy that toppled state
religion in the West
.
R
eligion recedes

further

from the public sphere and dies
not be
cause of the
work of
pro
-
secular
activists but

because of larger
, impersonal

forces of modernization.
1


Somewhat ironically, economic perspectives on religion may offer clearer predictions on why
people
tend

be
come
involved in
pro
-
secular
activism.


In many ways,
economic perspectives on rel
igion

and

more broadly the “
new
paradigm”
(Warner

1993
)
of religion

ha
ve arisen in

reaction against secularization theory.

Proponents of economic

perspective
s

reason that w
hen
firms compete with one another in a free
market environment, some thrive and some fail. But overall econom
ic activity

generally

grows
r
ather than declines. Similarly, there are particular “winners and losers” when religions compete,
but this
process does

not necessarily lead to an overall decline in religion, as the high rates belief
and membership in the Uni
ted States demonstrate (Finke and Stark

1992
)
. In fact, economic
perspectives emphasize that individuals will tend to display greater average commitment to their
religious group in a local environment where it faces
stiffer

competition. There are several

reasons for this, but we will focus on two that seem
potentially

transferable to

the

case of pro
-
secular activism:
th
e response of religious leader
s

to competition

and the

social psychological

reactions of
members of

a subcultural minority.
2



Supply
-
Side


Supply
-
side arguments emphasize that the
religious beliefs and commitment

of
individuals
result
in large part
from

the
determined efforts

of religious leaders who evangelize
new members and challenge

the

existi
ng
flock to

contribute
greater
time and mone
y
.

Leaders
must work harder when
other groups threaten to convert their
members away.

In the absence of




1

Theorists who do recognize the importance of individual actors in furthering secularization have focused on rather
narrow instances, for example

workers who resist the control of their religious institution employers, and mostly in
passing (Dobbelaere 1999).

2

There are at least two other possibilities, which apply specifically to the relationship between market share and
religious commitment (di
scussed below). They are: social loafing in large congregations typical of areas where a
particular religious group is numerically dominant (Zaleski and Zech 1995) and the tendency for conversion patterns
to bring relatively committed individuals into smal
ler religious groups (Olson 2008).


3

significant

competition, a large religious gro
up
tends to

take on the characterist
ics of a lazy
monopoly
. This is especially the case
when a religion

is supported by the
government

(Stark and
Iannaccone 1994)
.

L
eaders
of a state

church

may

feel that the
ir

religion’s ultimate goal of
social
universality

is
essentially
accomplished

and therefore put little effort into evangelization
.

Or
in
ceding tasks

such as revenue
-
raising to the state,
their sense of responsibility for fostering
commitment

among
existing
members

may
wan
e
.
S
ecularization theorists
, as we have seen,

look
at Western Europe

and see pluralism. But s
upply
-
siders see a long history of st
ate religion and
weak religious leadership (Stark and Iannaccone 1994)
.


Supply
-
siders also find support in
studies

of
religious “
market share,”
use
d

as an indicator of

monopoly status
.


M
embers

of
religious groups with large
r

market shares do, in fact, te
nd to display lower average levels of
commitment.
3

For example, in the United States, people tend to contribute less money to their
congregations in areas where their denomination constitutes a greater share of the local
population

(
Zaleski and Zech 1995;

Perl and Olson

2000
).

Both across and within countries,
ordinations to the Catholic pries
thood are considerably lower where Catholics are numerically
dominant
(Stark

1992
; Stark and
Mc
Cann

1993
)
. Stark and Finke (2000
: 244
) even suggest that

Catholic co
mmitment levels
in
areas such as Latin America
is
so low that most members of the
Church can be considered merely “nominal” Catholics.


Is t
he supply
-
side logic transferable to
secularist

groups
?
S
urely in some sense

these
groups

operate in the same lar
ge
r “market” as religion
. Leaders of religious groups and secular
groups would like nothing more than to take members from each other
.
Might
, then,

the efforts
of

secularist

leaders
diminish in an environment where secularis
m is already ascendant

in much
t
he same way that the efforts of religious leaders diminish
?
We
are only beginning to learn

about the behavior of leaders of free
-
thought organizations
in the U.S.
(Cimino and Smith

2007
).
However, we do know
a considerable amount

about
secular ideology

i
n the former communist
nations of eastern Europe.
In these settings,

atheism enjoyed the sanction of the
government

in a
way very much analogous to state religions
. However it
remains doubtful
that

secularism
ever
became a fervent ideal among
a majority
of

citizens
.

M
ost groups that promoted secularism in
the former Soviet Union were not grassroot
s
, independently
-
led organizations but creations of
the state (e.g., Peris 1998).

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen d
rama
tic
decreases in the

proportion

of people identifying th
emselves as atheist

(Froese 2004)

and

dramatic

increases the proportion saying they believe in God (Greeley

1994
)
.


This suggests
atheism was not a dearly
-
held

ideology

by most of
its
proponents
.


Perhaps many were merel
y
“nominal” atheists.



Some supply
-
side theorists
are
actually
skeptical of the abi
lity of atheism to form

into a
strong movement

and compete with religion

even under free market conditions

(Stark and
Bainbridge 1985: 8; Stark and Finke 2000: 14)
.

Its n
on
-
supernatural ideology typically does

not

generate fervor to the same extent that religious beliefs
and promise of an afterlife
can.
And too
many non
-
religious people are simply indifferent about the claims of both religion and atheism.

Even in societi
es with a high rate of non
-
belief, such as the Czech Republic, there are few signs



3

However, evidence is mixed regarding how much of this general relationship can be attributed to the
efforts of religious leaders. While a small market share may spur innovation
on the part of religious leaders

(Stark
1
998)
, it is not clear that it leads to greater evangelization efforts (
Hill and Olson 2007
).

Also, see Phillips (1998)
for findings on market share and religious commitment that run contrary to most other studies.



4

of secular organizational activity, and the trend may actually be toward an individualized
spirituality (Jackson 2009)
.

However,

supply
-
side

theor
y

also
recognize
s

that

typ
ical market

dynamics can change
when religio
n finds itself at odds with
the state. In places like communist
Poland, Northern Ireland, and Quebec, Catholics have displayed relatively high

religious

commitment despite their large numbers because the Church
has been the locus of resistance to
external dominance (Stark and Finke 2000: 240
-
1).

A somewhat similar pattern may take place
among secularists who believe they are threatened by
powerful religious elements
.

Norway has
had the largest secular organizat
ions, mainly formed in opposition to the state church.

In
Denmark, a resurgent “secular neo
-
tribalism,” has merged with a secularized “ethno
-
Christianity” in opposition to
Islamic immig
ration and perceived extremism
(Dencik 2007).


Secularism in the conte
mporary United States is arguably engaged in a struggle against
state
influence
.

Hunter

(1991)
vividly depicts this struggle as being
situ
ated

within larger
“c
ulture wars
.


These pit religious conservatives against
a coalition of less religiously
-
orthodo
x
progressives. Both sides fight for
policy supremacy on issues that are

directly
related
to church
and state (
e.g.,

prayer in public schools) and

more broadly to

religious
versus secular conceptions
of truth, justice, and individual rights

(e.g., abortio
n, gay rights, and embryonic stem cell
research)
.
Members of
secularist

organizations
, as part of the

progressive

coalition
,

can be

quite
passionate about
the cause
of resisting religion’s encroachment on the public sphere
(Cimino and
Smith

2007
; Pasquale

2006
).



Subcultural Identity


Subcultural identity, a variant of social identity theory,

explains the dynamics by which
such passions
can be aroused and sustained
.

Though disti
nct from supply
-
side theory, its ideas
regarding religion
are associated with

the larger “new paradigm” (Wa
r
ner

1993
)
and
provide
similar predictions about the role of
competition in fostering commitment.

W
hen

people

perceive themselves

as

threatened by hostile outgroups, loyalty to the
ir own

group and

its ideals
tends

to rise

(Ta
jfel and Turner 1986)
.

Under such conditions, personal identity becomes
strongly linked with group identity, and
people see protecting the group as protecting
themselves.

Perhaps the most relevant appl
ication of this principle to
religio
n

is
Smith
’s

(199
8)

analysis o
f

e
vangelicalism
.


Smith argues that
e
vangelicalism thrives
as a

distinctive subculture


in the United States
because it
s members see themselves as an

embattled


minority in the face of
an
encroaching

secular
ism
.

High levels of integra
tio
n and solidarity form among e
vangelicals as they

collectively

seek to defend themselves against this

mainstream anti
-
religious

culture.

Members
gain a sense of meaning and purpose from this struggle.

Further, t
heir
existence as a religious
group become
s
oriented not merely toward theology and salvation

but takes on a political
character,
similar to that

described in Hunter’s observations of the culture wars.


Rather than
trying to shield themselves from conflicting view
points, as secularization theory

wou
ld predict,
evangelicals openly hold up
opponents

as negative reference groups.

This helps strengthen
members


own sense of identity
and commitment
as e
vangelicals, not weaken it
.



5

A qualitative study of atheist and secular humanist organizations finds th
ese groups
engaging in activities that closely mimic their e
vangelical antagonists (Cimino and

Smi
th 2007).
As w
ith evangelicals, secular humanists and atheists have assumed a subcultural position that
stresses maintaining and reinforcing group identity a
nd boundaries in the face of a larger external
threat

(Castel
l
s 1997)
.

The
se groups also use

i
dentity politics discourse

a
s they press for equal
rights

from the government

as a minority in religious America.

And l
ike
evangelicals, to borrow
S
mith’s termi
nology (1998),
they

feel “embattled” by mainstream society.

Subcultural
identity
theory maintains that such
tension with society can strengthen the particular beliefs and practices
of a group.

In this cas
e it
may

transform mere religious non
-
belief

into
a
positive
value one is
willing to fight for.

This is reflected in the fact that m
any partic
ipants
in
free
-
thought
organizations beco
me involved in activism after
negative personal encounters with

the C
hristian
right (Cimino and Smith

2007
).


Thus,

subcu
ltural identity

theory suggests that commitme
nt to
secular
ist

groups may be greatest in areas where non
-
religious people
have more exposure to

the
Christian right

and
where there is
greater
governmental support for Christian right ideology.



Resource Mobi
lization


Other theoretical

perspectives

contrast with the new paradigm predictions. They
emphasize

that
being in
a

numerically dominant “monopolistic” position can, rather than leading
to laziness,

afford a group
key

organization
al advantages and the
abi
lity to assert its will
on its
opponents.

Among these

perspectives

is r
esource mobilization theory

(McCarthy and Zald
1973)
, which

predicts that
participation
levels for

social movements and related activist
organizations
tend
to be strongest where there
are plentiful resources on which to draw.

Such

resources include
, first and foremost,

a s
ignificant
population of people sympathetic to the cause.

Though th
eir

numbers need not be great
,
some

critical mass of potential
recruit
s

may be needed
to create an
d sustain

movement
vitality
.


This issue

is
especially

crucial

for movements
which
are made up of disliked minorities or which

promote
dissident

positions

(e.g., Spilerman 1970)
.
People may be particularly reluctant to

step forward and

work fo
r an unpopul
ar cause
where
doing so can expose them to a hostile majority.

The risks are
probably
heightened

even

further
for “invisible” groups such as atheists and gays
,

who are not automatically associated with the
cause through obvious characteristics such as gen
der or race (Gartner and Segura 1997).
4

Mere
h
eightened

visibility of a disliked minority can provoke hostility from

extremist elements of

a

majority (
e.g.,
McVeigh, Myers, and Sikkink

2004
). If that majority is sufficiently powerful
enough

to influence
the actions of local governmental authorities, the
repercussions for
participation in the cause can be severe indeed.
Resource mobilization theory then predicts that
,
far from being strongest in areas where
the religious right
is
prominent,
secular
ist

gro
ups may
thrive in

politically

liberal areas
where the government

already tends to protect the

rights
of non
-
religious people
from religious encroachment.





4

This issue is possibly of less relevan
ce for our analyses, which examine national organizations where membership
is anonymous. More generally, the concept of “critical mass,” may not be meaningful for the type of individual,
isolated associational membership we examine. If, however, people r
eside in an environment where pro
-
secular
activism is already visible, prevalent, and safe, it may provide key conditioning for additional people to join the
movement in the limited capacity of such anonymous membership.


6

Data


Dependent Variables


T
he

dependent variables
are

membership

rates

for two

organizations. In t
he first half of
2008, we contacte
d several

s
ecularist

organizations that have national
-
level membership. We
asked if they would be willing to share the zip codes of their members. Many of the
organizations were reluctant to do so. In the end, three pro
vided us zip codes, with our
agreement that we would not publish the names of the organizations or the exact numbers of
their members. Of the three

organizations
, two have
total
numbers sufficient to give us
confidence about their use in statistical model
s presented below. We exclude the third from
analyses.


The two organizations share similarities and differences.

Both have some local chapters,
but the great majority of their members are
simply

individuals or households who
are unaffiliated

chapters.
Thus “membership” here means that people have given a minimum monetary donation
to the organization.
Both

organizations

are very involved in the legal arena, advocating
separation of church and state and working to overturn laws and policies that violate
it
. One
organization remains
formally
neutral on the validity of religion generally and of any
denomination in particular.

It does, however, promote itself as

specifically

guarding against the
influence of the Christian conservative movement in the publi
c sphere.

As we cannot name the
organizations, we designate this one as “A.”

T
here is anecdotal evidence that
some

of its
members are liberal Christians
, Jews, and members of other non
-
Christian minority religions
.


In contrast, organization, “B
” is
ov
ertly non
-
theist

(
i.e.,
atheist or agnostic)

in ideology.


Though

it does not oppose
legal
rights of individuals to privately practice their faith, it openly argues that
society would be better off without religion. The membership of organization
B

is con
siderably
small
er than that of
A
.



After matching zip codes to counties, we calculate the dependent variables as members
per 10,000 based on

the

2007 county population. The variables range from 0 to 17.9 for
organization A and from 0 to 11.9 for organiza
tion B. Both measures are highly skewed in the
positive direction. This is partly because their values are 0 for many counties (about one
-
third of
counties for organization A and nearly six
-
tenths for B).
5





Independent Variables


The independent varia
bles measure
four
type
s of
environmental characteristics
: potential
threat from
the religious right
,

general political climate,
governmental
laws or policies

promoting
religio
us belief
, and
church
-
state conflict in the legal or electoral processes
.
The fi
rst two
are
measured at the county level. W
e draw on data from the 2000 Religious Congregations and
Membership Study [RCMS] (Jones et al. 2002) to

operationalize

threat from
the religious right
.
The RCMS provides county
-
level congregational membership fi
gures for over 140 partici
pating



5

In the future, we will explore th
e usefulness of other statistical methods in minimizing possible effects of
skewness. For the present conference paper, we have not been able to explore alternative approaches due to time
constraints.


7

denominations. D
enominations define membership

differently
,
so
the original researcher
s

calculated

estimates of children under
age
13

for denominations that
d
o not count them
.

The
standardized membership figures

that incl
ude children

are
label
ed “adherents.”

We
operationalize potential threat from conservative religion as the proportion of all county
adherents who belong to Evangelical denominations
and
the Latter Day Saints.
6

The

general
political climate

is

operational
ize
d

as

the proportion of
voters in the 2004 Presidential election
who chose John Kerry (Le
i
p 2008).
7



Next we measure state
-
level

laws and policies that support religious beliefs
, particularly
those of traditional Christianity. We
sought to compile as
much information as possible

on
laws
and policies directly

related

to church
-
state issues and to broader “culture wars” conflicts. The
topics on which we
focused
were
: prayer in public schools, vouchers or tax credits/deductions
for religious school stude
nts, teaching standards for evolution in public schools,
abortion
restrictions

and funding
, health insurance coverage of contra
ception, gay and lesbian unions or
marriage, legality of assisted suicide, and research on embryonic stem cells and cloning. One

difficulty is that laws and policies are constantly changing. We attempted to use recent
information, but this was not always possible. Where feasible, we also
created

multiple
measures on the same topic.


After compiling the measures, we subjected th
em to factor analysis

for the purpose of
creating scales
.
One strong factor

emerged

(alpha=.84)
. It
loads on

several items:
funding for
abortion,

four types of abortion restrictions, health coverage
of contraception, and legality of
embryonic stem cell

r
esearch. We label these as “health and beginning
-
of
-
life” issues.

(
See the
Appendix for details on

items making up the scales.
)

To expand the type
s

of laws

and policies

in
our analyses
, we
include a second
scale even though it is

based on a

considerably

weaker

factor
(alpha=.56)
.

It
l
oads on prayer in school and

teaching standards for evolution. We label these as
“education” issues. Higher values on both scales correspond to greater

support for religious
ideology

by the state.


The final independent
variables reflect church
-
state conflict in the legal and electoral
processes. For legal conflict, we

use

a database of
cases

on constitutional

religious freedo
m
(Sisk, Heise, and Morriss
2004). T
hough the

period
covered
is somewhat dated (
1986
-
19
95),
it
remains the best
available
source of information on this topic
. We create two measures: the
number of district court cases
with non
-
Christian claimants
and the number
with Christian

claimant
s
.
8

Each is divided by the state population in 1990

because more

populous states
naturally tend to have more lawsuits
. We
conc
ep
tualize

higher levels of the first measure as
reflecting an environment in which non
-
Christians view their rights as being threatened.
Conversely, higher levels of the second measure likely
reflect environments where Christians
view their rights as being threatened.





6

We use total adjusted adherents (Finke and Sheitle 2
005) as the denominator. Using adherents rather than total
population in t
he denominator reduces the correlation between this measure and

the control for

non
-
adherence rate

(see the
discussion of

control variables

below
).

7

In Alaska, election results are

released

only for four
regions. We match the regions

to counties as best as possible.

8

W
e exclude white separatists
from both measur
es.


8

Conflict in the electoral process is measured as the number of years since 1999 that the
state has had a ballot measure on at least one of the following culture
-
wars issues: stat
e funding
for religious schools, abortion, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, and gay rights.
9

We count years rather than total number of initiatives to avoid inordinately h
igh values for
states
like California.


There are 3,141 counties or c
ounty equivalents in the United States
. We lose four

to
missing data

on
independent variables. The most notable of these four is the District of
Columbia.
10

Thus, our final sample for analysis includes 3,137 counties and 50 states.



Control Variables


A
mong the most important factor to control is the proportion of the population that is
broadly sympathetic to secularist ideology. Without

do so,
effects of other variables may be
misleading. There is no direct

or perfect

way to
do so
, but we attempt to
c
apture it indirectly
through

a number of measures. First, at the county level, we control the proportion of the 2000
population
who are

not religious adherents. Note
that
this is not the same as

the

non
-
religious
population.
M
any people who are not cong
regation members are nevertheless religious.
However, there is a strong correlation between the non
-
adherence rate and the proportion

of the
population with

no religion. And the RCMS is the only county
-
level source of data on religion.
We also control t
he proportion of all religious adherents who are members of mainline
denominations, as they may be s
ympathetic to the
agenda of Organization A.
Finally
we

create a
state
-
level estimate of the

proportion of the

adult

population with no religion.
We do so b
y
combining responses from two surveys
: the 1990 National Survey of Rel
igious Identification
and
the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (Kosmin

and Keysar 2006
).
11



In addition to these religious factors, we use 2000 Census data to
measure

educ
ational
attainment of the county population. Education
predicts both the likelihood
of
having no religion

and supporting separation of church and state (Hout and Fisher 2002; Schwadel 2005).
Education also strongly increases the likelihood of
membership

in

voluntary associations

(McPherson and Rotolo 1996).

We therefore control the proportion of the population age 25
and above with a bachelor’s degree and the proporti
on with a post
-
graduate degree.
12


The 2000
Census is
also
used to created county
-
level
controls for a number of other demographic factors.
These include: the percentage of the population that is male, the percentage black, the percentage



9

We include initiatives in 2008 even though our dependent variables reflect membership data from early 2008, prior
t
o the November elections. However many voters were presumably aware that the measures were approaching. We
compromise by counting 2008 as half a year.

10

The RCMS lacks an estimate of total adjusted adherents for D
C. In addition to th
is

missing data,

som
e
state
-
level
measures
are of questionable use for DC
. The other three excluded counties are Loving, TX (missing in the RCMS);
Broomfield, CO (created in
2002 and therefore missing in the RCMS), and Kalawao, HI (missing from the dataset of
2004 Presidenti
al election results).

11

We include the NSRI despite its age because, for some smaller states, there are relatively low Ns using the ARIS
alone. Data are weighted to reflect the different sample sizes and also to account for an increase in religious nones
between 1990 and 2001. Alaska and Hawaii are excluded from both surveys, so we impute values for these states
using other sources of data, in particular election exit polls.

12

Exploratory analyses indicated that these measures perform much better at predi
cting membership than median
years of education.


9

Hispanic, the percentage living in rural areas, the percentage born in the state, median age, and
median

household income. At the state level, models also
include dichotomous controls

for
major Census region: South, Midwest, and West, with Northeast as the suppressed reference
category.



Results


Analyses use hierarchical linear modeling.
This statistical

method

is appropriate for data
where

case
s are nested within larger groups

(here, counties are nested within states)

and
where

measures are taken from both levels (Raudenbush and Bryk 2002).

We stan
dardize all variables
to aid
interpretation of the outpu
t.
13

Table 1 presents the results. In the first column for each
dependent variable, coefficients
have been

obtained
by entering each

independent variable into
the model by itself.

In other words, they reflect bivariate relationships.

The second c
olumn
s
hows coefficients from
model
s

that includes all independent variables together.


[Table 1 About Here]


Before examining theoretically relevant findings, two general patterns in the results are
worth noting. First, the effects of several variables are st
ronger in predicting membership rates
for organization A (non
-
sectarian) than for B (non
-
theist
). One possible reason

is th
e larger
number of members for A

and the

corresponding

lower

number of
counties with no members at
all

w
hich may tend to reduce rand
om error.

Additionally, t
here is a much smaller fraction of
the population upon which a non
-
theist organization can draw. It may be more difficult to
precisely
control
the proportion of

th
e population
that is likely to be sympathetic to an

atheist or
agn
ostic
viewpoint.


Among the most striking

general

findings
in Table

1

is the very strong effect of the
proportion of the population with a post
-
graduate degree

on membership in both organizations,
but

especially
A
.
14

Though the data are ecological, it appe
ars that the highly educated represent
a very central constituent of these organizations’ membership.
Note that the effect of post
-
graduate education is

so

strong that the effects of many other variables are drastically different
upon mere addition of thi
s control.
In fact

the three religious control variables

the

proportion
of the county population who are

non
-
adheren
ts, the proportion of mainliners among county
adherents, the proportion of the state population with no religion

are
among those that have
no
effect at all when controlling
education.

In other words, to identify

region
s where secularist
activism is likely to thrive, one would do better to focus on areas with a highly educated
populace rather than areas with a high proportion of

non
-
adherents

or non
-
religious

people.



Our central interest lies with measures that reflect competition with the religious right
and conflict with the state. The proportion of adherents in conservative denominations has a



13

Resulting coefficients are not exactly equivalent to standardized coefficients in ordinary least squares regression
because HLM derives them using an iterative process. However, they yield extremely close

approximations to what
OLS produces for level 1 models.

14

The Pearson correlation between the membership rate for organization A and the proportion of the population
with a post
-
graduate degree is .30.


10

negative effect

on membership in organizatio
n A in the multivariate model
.
15

This is what would
be expected i
f being surrounded by a hostile

religious majority inhibits people from becoming
involved in
secularist
activism. It is the opposite of what one would expect if local competition
with the re
ligious right spurred those sympathetic to separation

of church and state

to become
active in the cause. In other words it
tends to support

expectations of

resource mobilization

theory rather than
the supply
-
side or subcultural identity perspectives.
Not
e, however, that the
conservative adherence rate has no net effect on membership in organization B.




Several
other results are
also
supportive
of resource mobilization theory
, most especially
effects
of the measures of

political climate and legal conflic
t. A greater proportion of votes for
Kerry in 2004 increases the membership rate for both organizations.
Counties with high Kerry
support are presumably

lib
eral environments where

pro
-
secular activism

is

un
likely be
highly
controversial among

the general

population

or

to be

met with stiff resistance from a powerful
conservative
majority.

Meanwhile

a

greater number of religious

freedom

lawsuit
s by non
-
Christians tends to
decrease

the
membership rate for both organizations
, net of other factors
.
16


In othe
r words, secularist membership is lower in states where l
awsuits

suggest
s

that
rights

of
non
-
Christians

are least protected

and where the need for pro
-
secular activism is presumably
most dire
.

Interestingly, lawsuits do a better job of predicting organiza
tional membership than
the actual content of state laws does.
In the bivariate columns, l
aws and policies on

health/beginning of life issues and on educational issues are ass
ociate
d with secularist
membership; w
here state laws promote a traditional religi
ous perspective,
membership
in both
organizations

tends to be lower
. But

these relationships
weaken

to statistical non
-
significance
upon controlling other factors.



One finding does

tend to support a supply
-
side or
subcultural distinctiveness
perspectiv
e
.
Membership in organization A

(though not B)

is

greater in states that have had multiple ballot
initiatives on culture wars issues during the previous decade
.
We view such ballot initiatives as
m
echanisms that heighten competition

between

religious and
secular viewpoints. Of course the
mere incidence of ballot initiatives tells us nothing about which side of the culture wars
is
ascendant in a particular state. But we have already controlled for the general conservativeness
or liberalness of the politic
al environment and
for the content of state laws. These factors being
equal, ballot initiatives
should
intensify

conflict for both sides of the culture wards by
focus
ing

public attention on issues surrounding church and state
. They probably tend to incre
ase
antagonistic rhetoric on each side and spur leaders of each side to work harder at mobilizing
supporters.

If the efforts of secularist leaders are indeed intensified, then the

supply
-
side
perspective

seems
particularly useful in explaining the effect
of ballot initiatives.






15

This result needs to be qualified. Changing the me
asure to conservative adherents as a proportion of the entire
county
population

rather than the proportion of all
adherents

makes the effect disappear (results not shown).
However, this lack of an effect appears to be due at least partly to a higher corre
lation with the non
-
adherence rate.

16

And for organization B, the effect for Christian claimants (which is in the opposite direction) falls just shy of
statistical significance.


11

Discussion



Thus
results
on the whole
tend to support

resource mobilization
predictions
for
the effect
of competition on
secularist membership.
In particular, m
embership

in both organization tends
to be greater in counties where

there are high proportions of Kerry voters and in states where
non
-
Christians have filed fewer lawsuits

to protect their rights
.

Membership for
o
rganization

A

also tends to be greater in counties with a lower proportion
s

of religious conservatives among
adherents.

In other words, membership
tends to be high where the political environment is
liberal,

where

non
-
religious people already enjoy some protection from the law,

and where there
is lower exposure to hostility from the religious right.

An alternat
ive interpretation
is that these
independent variables are not
reflecting

a lack of

competition so much as

sheer

availability of
potential rec
ruits to
secularist organizations
. In other words, control variables
may

not fully
capture variation in

th
e size
of the population

sympathetic to the

pro
-
secular

cause,
allowing

factors like
a high proportion of
Kerry voters
or
a
low proportion of rel
igious conservatives to
capture what remains.
For these two variables, the alternative interpretation
may be
plausibl
e.
However, it seems
quite doubtful for the non
-
Christian claimants
variable
s, which
do
es

not
measure any

particular

portion of the population.


Assuming there is some validity to the overall pattern of
finding
s, what does
it

mean for
the vitality
of secu
larist organizations
? The r
esults do not necessarily
mean that conflict with the
religious right play
s

little

role in
spurring
people to join
these groups
.

What results do suggest is
that
local

conflict
inhibits membership. Presumabl
y,
secularist
member
s who live in areas that
are relatively liberal
nevertheless
remain

very concerned about
the threat of the religious right
and government
al

support for religion in other areas of the country.

Such a

“nationalized” sense
of grievance
can be common in

a mod
ern society with mass media (e.g., Spilerman 1970).

If
a
secularist agenda w
ere

to gain ground

in America
, its membership would presumably
expand as
particular areas of the country

bec
a
me more accommodating
.
17

If however, a point w
ere

reached
where there
was little remaining threat from the religious right anywhere, it is possible that
membership might begin to contract

everywhere
.



The one exception to th
e inhibiting effect of local conflict is

the apparent effect of state
ballot initiatives in spurri
ng secularist membership.

This aspect of the political process may
force people to confront church
-
state conflict regardless of whether the local religious and
political environment is generally hospitable to their viewpoint. The effect of ballot initiat
ives is
particularly notable when contrasted with the lack of a net effect for state laws and policies.
Rather than the actual content of the law, what appears to be important

for secularist member
ship

is the opportunity

(or perhaps necessity)

for average

citizens to be directly involved in creating
or changing the law.




17

Unfortunately, our membership data reflect only a single point in time.


The
y
do not allow us to examine
previous
membership changes over time.



12

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16

Appendix
:

Details on State

Law and Policy

Scales


Health/Beginning of L
ife Scale



Waiting period required for abortion: 0=No, 1=Yes but law permanently enjoined, 2=Yes



Number of topics on which pre
-
abortion counsel
ing is mandated, from among these
four:
breast cancer, fetal pain, negative psychological effects, and ultrasound
imaging



Parental notification or consent required for minors to have an abortion: 0=No, 1=Yes but
law permanently enjoined, 2=Notice only, 2.5=Notice to both parents only, 3=Consent,
3.5=Consent from both parents



“Partial birth” abortion banned: 0=No, 1=Ye
s but law permanently enjoined, 2=After
viability only, 3=In all cases



Most or all medically necessary abortions are publically funded: 0=No, 1=Yes



Health insurance must cover contraception: 0=Yes, 1=Yes but religious employers are
exempt, 2=No but legisla
tion is pending, 3=No



Legality of embryonic stem cell research and funding: 0=Stem cell research is funded by
the state, 1=Stem cell research is not funded but is explicitly protected by the law, 2=The
law neither prohibits nor explicitly protects stem ce
ll research, 3=The law prohibits “fetal
experimentation” only, 4=The law prohibits IVF embryo research only, 5=State funding
of stem cell research is explicitly restricted, 6=Stem cell research (or related types of

cloning) is illegal

Sources:



Laws regar
ding abortion: Guttmacher Institute 2009



Contraception coverage: Planned Parenthood (via the now defunct website
www.CoverMyPills.org)



Stem cell research and funding: Americans United for Life 2008


Education Scale



Lerner’s (2000) letter grade for the trea
tment of evolution in state science standards: 0=A
to C (“very good or excellent” to “satisfactory”), 1=D (“unsatisfactory”), 2=F to F
-

(“useless or absent” to “disgraceful”) or no grade



A 2008 summary of state science standards by the National Center for
Science
Education: 0=human evolution is mentioned directly, 1=human evolution is implied but
not explicitly mentioned, 2=human evolution is not mentioned but biological evolution
generally is treated “straightforwardly and/or thoroughly,” 3=biological evol
ution is
either not mentioned or mentioned only “briefly, unclearly”



What state law explicitly permits regarding prayer in public school: 0=No mention of
prayer, 1=a moment of classroom silence is allowed only, 2=voluntary, student
-
initiated


prayer is al
lowed outside the classroom, 3=teacher
-
led prayer is allowed

Additional Sources:



NCSE Summary: New York Times 2008



Prayer in schools: www.FindLaw.com


Note: all measures have been standardized before summing to create the scales.

17

Table 1: Linear HLM Regre
ssions of the

County

Rate of Organizational Membership





Coefficients

(All Variable
s

Standardized)




Organization A

Organization B



(
Non
-
Sect
a
rian
)



(Non
-
Theist)




All


All


Predictor Variables

Bivariate

Variables

Bivariate

Variables


County
-
Level
(N
=3,137)


Demographic Controls



Percentage Male

-
.08*

.02

-
.03*

.03*



Median Age

.07*

.22*

.04

.14*



Percentage Black

-
.08*

-
.08*

-
.06*

-
.06*



Percentage Hispanic

-
.07*

-
.01

-
.05

-
.02



Percentage of Adults Over 24




with a Bachelor’s Degree

.44*

.02

.26*

.15*



Percentage of Adults Over 24




with a Post
-
Graduate Degree

.54*

.61*

.27*

.18*



Median Income

.23*

-
.08*

.13*

-
.09*



Percentage Rural

-
.14*

.06*

-
.11*

-
.05



Percentage Born in the State

-
.32*

-
.07*

-
.20*

-
.04


Religious Composition



Percen
tage who are not




Religious Adherents

.07*

.000

.08*

.03




Percentage of Adherents who




are in Mainline Denoms.

.09*

.03

.06

.05



Percentage of Adherents who




are in Conservative Denoms.

-
.21*

-
.06*

-
.09*

.04


P
olitical Climate



Percentage of Vote
rs who




Chose Kerry in 2004

.19*

.10*

.10*

.09*


State
-
Level

(N=50)

Percentage of Adults with no


Religion

.32*

.05

.22*

.003

District Court Cases on Religion


Non
-
Christian Claimants

-
.07

-
.05*

-
.03

-
.07*


Christian Claimants

.07

.02

.10

.04

Laws and Po
licies


Health/Beginning of Life Scale

-
.40*

-
.03

-
.21*

-
.05


Education Scale

-
.22*

-
.02

-
.16*

-
.04

Ballot Measures Since 2000

-
.01

.05*

.05

.01

Region
a


South

-
.50*

.02

-
.19*

.08


Midwest

-
.42*

.001

-
.08

.12


West

-
.19*

.10

.07

.18*



*
p

<. 05

a
The suppr
essed reference category is the
Northeast
.

In the bivariate columns, these variables are entered as a group.