Faith in the Public Square? A comprehensive study of the segments of Canadian society

TORONTO – The appropriateness of faith in the public square is often a source of debate in Canada. There are pockets of Canadian society where faith is valued and areas where it is discouraged.

A new study from the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus, finds that when it comes to this debate, the Canadians taking each side may not be those that one may expect.

Using responses to 17 questions about their openness to faith in both their own life and the public square, researchers created a Public Faith Index and constructed three groups – Public Faith Proponents (37% of the population), Public Faith Opponents (32%), and the Uncertain (32%).

Public Faith Proponents more likely to be younger, more educated, than those who voice Opposition

Notably, the results may challenge a traditional view of who Canadians within the Proponent group are. While one may assume this group is more likely to be made up of older and more Conservative voting Canadians, this study finds Proponents more likely to be younger, more highly educated, and largely Liberal-supporting.

This suggests that a range of Canadians – not just the highly religious – appear willing to accept certain elements of faith in public life. In fact, one-quarter of those who are most accepting of public faith have never read a religious text. Similarly, those with more strongly held religious beliefs may not necessarily be accommodating of the beliefs of others, or want to see them participating in the public discourse.

More Key Findings:

  • Three-quarters of Public Faith Proponents (73%) say that the contributions of faith-based communities to Canada are more good than bad, or good outright, while just six per cent of Public Faith Opponents hold this opinion.
  • Half of Public Faith Proponents (50%) strongly agree that having a religious or faith-focused upbringing helps shape good citizenship characteristics. The Uncertain are more likely to moderately agree (53%) while two-thirds of Opponents (68%) disagree with this idea
  • Canadians are deeply divided about the relevance of faith communities in addressing social issues. Regardless of political affiliation, half say these groups are increasing or maintaining relevance, while half say they are losing or have already lost it
  • Seven-in-ten (68%) Canadians say that the basics of world religions should be taught in public high schools, and that government leaders should be knowledgeable about the tenets of major religions (70%)