Despite a secular outlook, the U.S. is still a highly religious society. A Gallup survey conducted in mid 2016 revealed 89% of Americans believe in God.
Almost three quarters of Americans associate themselves with an established religion and more than 70 percent identify themselves as Christians, according to a 2014 Pew Research Survey. Though the number of people who do not identify themselves with a religious group has grown in the U.S. in past decades the religion is still a major issue for most Americans.
This significance of religion is also visible in American politics. In fact it’s more visible in politics than elsewhere in the American society. A recent analysis by Pew Research Centre finds out that the new 115th Congress is as Christian as it was in 1960s. Ninety-one percent of new Congressmen describe themselves as Christians while a total of 98 percent of the newly-elected legislators associate themselves with established religions.
But this religious composition of American society and politics doesn’t appear in mainstream American media which is overwhelmingly secular. American media adopts this secular outlook gradually in last three centuries which helped it solidify this transformation. This secular functioning of media is the second most important factor after Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion which helped the American society to peacefully deal its religious heterogeneity as the media gradually brings objectivity in its coverage of religion and religious groups in the U.S. in last century.
But the relationship between the overwhelmingly religious society and the secular press in the U.S. is not always cordial and some recent events establish this dichotomy. The secular media keeps pushing the religious boundaries unlike past when it generally avoided publishing materials which may deem offensive to its communities.
Many of the religious groups see this approach as hostile and it is one of the major contributing factors to the rise of the populist (in other words “conservative”) forces in the U.S. including the tea party movement during President Obama’s first presidency and the recent election of Donald Trump as President.
A Gallup Survey in September 2016 shows that only 32% Americans have great deal or amount of trust in the media, a record low and down eight percentage points from a year earlier. The survey was conducted at a time when many Republican leaders were complaining about disproportionate, and often favorable, media coverage to Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton against her Republican rivals.
The survey reveals that only 14% Republicans, which often are more religious than Democrats, have faith in the media. American media’s rather liberal coverage on certain religiously-sensitive issues, including gay marriages, abortion and immigration, was among other reasons which forced white Christians to flock to Donald Trump who was most vocal among the Republican presidential candidates in his criticism and disdain of secular media.
This hyperactivity of white Christian Americans has invoked a sense of insecurity among other minority religious groups, especially Muslims, who for the first time after 9/11 are enjoying a very positive and central coverage in American media as being the victim of new President’s policies. This coverage is likely to deepen the religious fault lines in American society as it will further infuriate the evangelical Christians and white Catholics who strongly support President Trump and share his dislike of secular media.
And as the rift between the new POTUS and the mainstream American media appears not to be settled anytime soon it is safe to assume that the religion and interfaith issues will remain an important subject and generate front page stories in American media for quite some time.