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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 9, 2010

South the most religious

By Maria Recio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON Mississippi is, far and away, the most religious state in the country ranking first among the 50 states in a nationwide poll in four categories: the importance of religion to residents, the frequency of prayer, the attendance at worship services and the certainty of a belief in God.

According to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life survey released last month, Mississippi scored highest across the board, with 82 percent of Mississippians saying religion is very important in their lives; 60 percent saying they attend services at least once a week; 77 percent saying they pray daily; and 91 percent saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.

Other Southern states also ranked high in the importance of religion in residents' lives. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina were all at 70 percent or higher. The Pew Center found that "at the other end of the spectrum," fewer than four in 10 people living in New Hampshire (36 percent), Vermont (36 percent) or Alaska (37 percent) said religion is very important to them.

The national average: 56 percent. Hawai'i, with 55 percent, was No. 23.

On attending church services, the poll found that the Magnolia State leads the nation with at least weekly frequency by 60 percent of its residents, while the national average is 39 percent. Alaska is the least observant state, with regular attendance by only 22 percent of those surveyed. Hawai'i, with 35 percent, was No. 30.

Mississippians also pray more than others, with 77 percent saying they pray at least once daily, compared with the national average of 58 percent. Alaska was next-to-last with 41 percent. Maine was lowest, at 40 percent. Hawai'i, with 61 percent, was No. 15.

Finally, in the fourth category belief in God 91 percent of Mississippians said they have an absolute certainty in the existence of a higher being.

The top nine states where the poll found a strong belief in God are all Southern, and the 10th was Utah, where the Mormon Church is based. The national average for certainty of belief in God was 71 percent, with the lowest percentages in New Hampshire and Vermont, each with 54 percent.

Hawai'i, with 69 percent, was No. 33.

The poll was conducted by telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 35,556 adults The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. There were supplementary interviews with 547 people queried from an earlier survey of Muslim Americans, as well as another 500 interviews with residents who only had cell phones.