A Brief History of Religion and the U. Census Bureau has not asked questions about religion since the 1950s, but the federal government did gather some information about religion for about a century before that.
The same basic questions on religious institutions were included in the 1860 and 1870 censuses. In 1880, census takers started collecting more in-depth information from religious leaders on topics ranging from average worship attendance to church income, expenditures and debt. The scope of inquiry about religion was expanded again in 1890, when census takers gathered information about the number of ministers in each denomination. Classifications for the denominations also were more detailed. There were no other significant changes in data collection on religious bodies until 1902, when the U.
Census Bureau was established as a permanent government agency and census officials decided to separate some data collection from the regular decennial census. This led to the statutory creation of the Census of Religious Bodies, which began in 1906 as a stand-alone census to be taken every 10 years. The first Census of Religious Bodies, which was conducted through questionnaires mailed to religious leaders, asked many of the same questions as the 1890 census did, plus added a few new questions. Census Bureau explained in its report on the 1906 Census of Religious Bodies.
The 1906 Census of Religious Bodies was the most thorough compilation of religious organizations to date. It reported a total of 186 denominations, most grouped into 27 families. The Census of Religious Bodies was conducted every 10 years until 1946. The 1936 Census of Religious Bodies was the last one published, however, because the U.
Congress failed to appropriate money either to tabulate or to publish the information collected in the 1946 census. By 1956, Congress had discontinued the funding for this census altogether. The unpublished results of the Census of Religious Bodies in 1946 and its ultimate demise in 1956 stemmed in part from a growing public debate over the propriety, merit and feasibility of the Census Bureau asking questions about religion. During the 1950s, religious groups, civil liberty groups, social scientists and even the Census Bureau’s own staff were sharply divided over the issue.
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There was a concerted campaign by researchers, some leaders in the Catholic Church and Census Bureau Director Robert W. But Burgess eventually decided against it after receiving vocal opposition from some religious and civil liberties groups.