By Phil Zuckerman
Legally speaking, 2014 has not been a good year for secular Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held, for-profit corporations can claim religious exemptions from laws that go against their owners’ religious beliefs. They also decided that it is constitutional to kick off city council meetings with explicitly sectarian Christian prayers. Even the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that the teacher-led, God-centric language of the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t discriminate against the children of non-theists. No wonder that Tom Flynn, the director of the Council for Secular Humanism, dubbed 2014 the “Annus Horribilis.”
And yet, despite these legal defeats, 2014 has actually been a wonderful year. A great year. In fact, things have never been better for the nation’s non-religious.
Consider the demographics. Back in the 1950s, less than five percent of Americans were non-religious, but today, according to the latest national surveys — for example,Pew Forum and WIN-Gallup — it is now somewhere between 19 percent and 30 percent, and among Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 specifically — 33 percent now claim to be non-religious. These are, quite simply, the highest rates of secularity the nation has ever seen.
Of course, not all Americans who say they are non-religious are necessarily atheist or agnostic. But according to the American Religious Identification Survey, somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent are; and around 75 percent of 20-somethings are. Thus, the rise of irreligiosity in America is also a rise of atheism and agnosticism, as well.
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