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Study: Third of U.S. Says Being Christian Important to Being 'Truly American'

But far more in the U.S. said language was important to national identity, according to the Pew Research Center.
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A man prays in Chicago in 2005.Tim Boyle / Getty Images, file

Nearly a third of Americans say that being "truly American" means subscribing to the Christian faith, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found.

But the study, which surveyed 14 countries, found that language was the core of national identity, with a median of 70 percent saying English proficiency is the key to being considered American. Being Christian trailed behind language and sharing customs and traditions.

The study released Wednesday found that 32 percent of Americans say being Christian is very important to national identity. And of those who say religion is important to them, 51 percent believe Christianity is a crucial part of being American, Pew said.

In a country that is majority Christian, the researchers said, "The public is divided over whether one has to be Christian in order to be considered American, with roughly a third saying it is very important and another third saying it is not at all important."

It added, "perhaps not surprisingly, the link between religion and nationality is of greatest consequence to those for whom religion plays a very important role in daily life."

Phil McCausland and Avalon Zoppo

Responses were split along generational, political and gender lines. More Republicans (43%) said being Christian is essential to being truly American whereas 29 percent of Democrats agreed, according to Pew. Those 50 or older considered being Christian more important than those 35 or under.

The study’s findings are consistent with research on anti-Islamic views in the U.S., said Council on American-Islamic Relations Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, who added that given the current political climate, American Muslims face an increasingly negative perception.

"The study is not at all surprising," Hooper said. "But we are a religiously diverse nation of many different faiths. You don't have to follow a particular faith to be truly American. To be truly American, you should be accepting of all faiths."

Other countries see national identity differently — only seven percent of Swedish people, 10 percent of French respondents and 15 percent of Canadians said they believe being Christian is an important part of their nationality, Pew said. Of the countries included, Greece had the highest number at 54 percent.

The researchers also dove into whether people believe birthplace affects national identity, and found relatively little importance.

Asked whether being born in the U.S. is very important for being truly American, 32 percent said yes. The study found that being native born is valued more highly among older Americans and those with a high school degree or less.