Secular People Key to Interfaith Racial Healing

"Do you think the BLM movement has changed the country?" 2020 Secular Voices Survey, Socioanalatica

The largest religious minority in the United States is secular: people who identify as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or as simply being not religious. According to the Secular Voices Survey, recently released by my firm Socioanalítica Research, secular people account for 26 percent of the adult population and nearly four in ten (37 percent) of young people under 30. 

Secular people may be changing the country’s religious landscape but they also have more progressive attitudes toward race. Secular people do not seem to be divided by race as the Christian majority is. In this way, secular Americans are the rare religion-based constituency in which a multi-racial coalition seems possible. 

One way in which secular people are changing public opinion on race is how they evaluate the seminal social movement of this century: Black Lives Matter. American adults have mixed views about Black Lives Matter. Forty percent say that Black Lives Matter has changed the country mostly for the better while 41 percent say mostly for the worse. Secular Americans give overwhelmingly positive evaluations to Black Lives Matter (49% positive, 28% negative)

Christians have an overall negative evaluation (-11 points) of Black Lives Matter (35% positive, 46% negative) but their evaluations are racially polarized. White Christians have negative opinions of both movements while Christians of color. This is not the case for secular people. White secular people and secular people of color positively evaluate the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In addition to their generally positive evaluation of Black Lives Matter, secular people agree with one of the root causes for the movement’s existence. While a majority (59 percent) of Americans think that “excessive use of force by police” is a major issue in the country today, views on the issue are colored by race. Only a plurality of white Christians (45 percent) considers police abuse a major problem, while more than 7 in 10 (71 percent) Christians of color do, including 87 percent of Black Christians. Secular people are on the same side of the issue regardless of race. Sixty-nine percent of all secular people think excessive use of police force is a major problem. This includes nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white secular people and more than three-quarters (76 percent) of secular people of color. 

Secular people are also distinct in their unity in favor of one of the issues of police violence’s most controversial solutions. The Secular Voices Survey asked people if they were in favor or opposed to “moving funding away from the police and into agencies that promote public health,” a way of “defunding the police.” 

The American public is divided, a majority (51 percent) opposes the proposal and 48 percent are in favor. Only about one-third (32 percent) of white Christians favor defunding the police while Christian people of color are nearly twice as likely (63 percent) to favor the policy. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) of secular people favor defunding the police, once again white secular people are closer to the opinion of people of color than of white Christians. Fifty-five percent of white secular people and 63 percent of secular people of color are in favor of “moving funding away from the police and into agencies that promote public health.”

When it comes to racial issues secular people are the cornerstone of a progressive multiracial alliance with other people of faith, particularly Christians of color and non-Christian religious Americans that are working toward a more inclusive nation. That coalition includes young white Christians under 30, who break from their older coreligionists in their support for Black Lives Matter, identifying police violence as a major issue, and supporting defunding the police in favor of public health solutions. 

Dr. Juhem Navarro-Rivera is a political scientist, writer, public speaker, and research consultant. He is the Political Research director and Managing Partner at Socioanalitica Research, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Humanist Studies.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.