Remember a few Christmases ago, when an atheist group was allowed to place a placard in the Capitol building in Olympia, alongside a Christian Nativity scene? Conservative talking head Bill O’Reilly made a big fuss about it on Fox News, and Washington state briefly became ground zero for the so-called “War on Christmas.”
Except it wasn’t so much Washington as it was Seattle. Because even though the incident happened in Olympia, and even though the atheist group responsible for the sign was from out-of-state, O’Reilly didn’t hesitate to blame the whole thing on Seattle.
In a Washington Times opinion piece, “Godless in Seattle,“ he claimed it was us city folk shoving our atheism down the throats of the good people of this state:
Seattle now rivals San Francisco for secular-progressive nuttiness. …Outside the Seattle area, Washington state is fairly conservative. But the big-city population base rules, and far-left zealots are running wild.
Sheesh. Tell us how you really feel about us, Bill.
While this controversy might seem like ancient history now, it does raise an interesting question. Is there any truth to what O’Reilly wrote about us? Seattle is well-known for being one of the least religious big cities in the country, but was he right that we’re completely out-of-step with the rest of Washington in this regard? Are the pagans of Seattle bullying the decent, God-fearing folk from everywhere else in the state?
The data would suggest otherwise.
The 2010 U.S. Religion Census tracks the levels of religious participation in communities around the country, including 10 metropolitan areas in Washington. And what the data in this study show is that, when it comes to religion, Seattle doesn’t stand out from the rest of the state. Seattle ranks fifth out of ten metro areas in Washington for the percentage of people who are not affiliated with a congregation. We’re just a little less religious than folks in conservative Spokane. And the Bremerton-Silverdale area is, in fact, one of the least religious metro areas in the country.
As it turns out, by Washington standards, we’re only middle-of-the-road heathens.
But let’s just keep this between ourselves. After all, we wouldn’t want to put our hard-earned reputation for “secular-progressive nuttiness” in jeopardy.