Hispanic-American Adults Are Less Catholic and More ‘Unaffiliated’ Than Ever Before

A few weeks ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released a report called the “2013 Hispanic Values Survey.”

A new graphic from PRRI released yesterday highlights the big changes: Fewer Catholics and more religiously unaffiliated Hispanics than ever before:

Kimberly Winston reached out to a Hispanic leader in the atheist community to see if the numbers lined up with what he was seeing:

That reflects the experience of David Tamayo, president and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, a national organization of nonbelievers of Latino origin…

“I can count on one hand the number of Hispanic nones I know who were raised atheist or agnostic,” he said. “All of them were taken to church as children, were baptized. So I think the study reflects a lot of the reality of the nones.”

I imagine similar results would hold for just about any immigrant community. First Generation-ers (like myself) grew up in cultures where ethnicity and religious beliefs were intertwined. We’ve found ways to untangle the two and shed the part we can do without. I suspect the next generation will become even less religious than ours — how strange it will be when one’s ethnicity isn’t bound to a particular religious identity.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    Not being Hispanic, is there some cultural aspect that I’m missing that links people of Mexico, Central and South America to the Catholic Church beyond the historic enslavement and genocide of the native peoples?

    I’ve lived in the American South West for half my life and the people I’ve associated with didn’t really promote their religious views. For them it was a very quiet and personal thing.

    • imokyrok

      I think that’s the case in most countries. The in your face religion that seems to be part of American culture isn’t really a feature of every culture. certainly here in Ireland you could work with someone for ten years and never have the subject of religion come up. And it would be considered rude to ask anyone about their personal religious beliefs in most instances.

    • Anon

      Yes and no, the slavement and genocide is one of the big reasons. And while there are tribes that still follow their own gods, most of todays native population come from people that converted to catholicism to avoid death. But the bigger reason is that most of Latinamerica’s population is not native, it’s from spanish descent (Also portuguese and italian depending on the region) you could consider our culture a rehashed version of the southern european one and that links us to the Catholic Church.

      I had the pleasure to visit the US the last year and I was amazed at how seriously people take religion there, here we don’t have people fighting to teach creationism in science class or advocating for school prayer, I study in a religious university (A jesuit one to be fair) and I have a lot of openly gay and atheist friends and no one really cares. You do see a lot of religious paraphernalia around but the only ones who really seem to care are old ladies.

      • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

        Those are some good points. I am aware of the strong Spanish and Portuguese (especially in Brazil) heritage that permeates the Latin American nations. And it is the division in heritage which also seems to have a de-facto Class system in a lot of countries. With the Spaniards at the top and then filtering down to the native population. There also seems to be a bit of division the further south a person comes from; the more animosity that seems to be put upon them.

        Or at least that’s how it’s been explained to me from people who’ve immigrated from the region to the States.

        When I lived in Texas, white people would ask me “What church do you go to?” Arizona didn’t have that sort of religious culture when I was there and the Mormons in Las Vegas, Nevada pretty much kept to themselves. Well apart from the random missionary that’d end up on your doorstep. On the other hand the Hispanic families that lived in the neighborhoods I lived in would ask me if I’d eaten lunch.

        • Anon

          Heritage do play a big part on the “class system”, but the native population haven’t been at the bottom of it since the XVI century, that place was (and sadly, is) for people of African descent. Native tribes either successfully incorporated into the Spanish society or completely isolated themselves, the ones who incorporated eventually mixed with the Spaniards and nowadays compose the bulk of the middle class, the rest eventually reached an agreement with the government to be left alone, which hasn’t worked really well since I’m from Colombia and our little civil war tends to get in their territories.

          The south=animosity part I really don’t get, maybe they were talking about their own countries, for example here the central and northern regions are the most prosperous, but there isn’t really an stigma against people from further south, if they were talking about the region as a whole, well, Chile and Argentina are at the bottom south and they are the richest countries in the region, although there is the stereotype that Argentinians are dicks.

          Yeah, hispanics seem to be really fond of inviting people to lunch. You made me remember a fun anecdote, when I was in the US (Georgia at that time) I was visiting my sister, and her roomate invited us to eat with her family, once the food was served and after a quick thanks I jumped onto the food, the family watched me horrified as my sister told me that we needed to pray first, I slowly swallowed what I had eaten and then awkwardly waited for five minutes while the prayer was done…That wasn’t the only time it happened.

          • Stev84

            In other countries, the southern parts of the countries didn’t start a civil war because they wanted to keep slaves. And while the are often regional differences in culture, there aren’t necessarily a huge as in the US.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Oprah doesn’t consider them Hispanic then.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I just gagged pretty hard there.

    • Timmah

      Now see if she had said THAT it would of been torches and pitchforks time.

    • Greg G.

      Please pardon the tpyos. I have to get the Windex and paper towels for the monitor.

  • Stephanie Austin

    I still laugh silently when everyone assumes the we (hispanics) are ALL Catholic. I used to get that stupid question all the time. I’ve never really been a believer but my mom’s family were hard core Southern Baptists. And since I was not raised bilingual those services (all in Spanish) were boring. Since I’m a voracious reader, guess what? The bible is a bunch of garbage. (I was 10 at the time. Even I could see that the genealogies of jesus didn’t match up.)

    • ShoeUnited

      You can’t deny that Catholicism plays heavily in Mexican and other Hispanic cultures. (We also weren’t taught Spanish because they wanted us to blend in).

    • smrnda

      I’m aware that there’s a significant population of Baptist and other Protestant Hispanics in Texas. How long has that been a thing? Is it more recent or is there a much longer tradition of Protestantism among Hispanics than I’m aware of?

      • Stev84

        I guess American churches started to recruit there heavily in the 70s and especially the 80s.

      • Carmelita Spats

        There is a long tradition of Protestantism among Mexicans in Texas and across the border…Mexican Presidents Alvaro Obregón, Plutarco Elías Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas were foes of the Catholic Church in Mexico and pushed for “libertad de culto”, freedom of religion…They encouraged Protestant missionaries in Mexico to break up the Catholic Church’s monopoly…Obregón was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic.

  • ShoeUnited

    I wonder if the closed mindedness will reach across the border (Don’t go to America it turned your uncle into a godless heathen.) It also gives racists have a country have an option if they look at the data a certain way. Either they can get rid of secularism and see an increase in Mexicans or embrace secularism and see a drop in Catholics.

    I for one welcome my fellow Mexican Secularists. :3

    • Carmelita Spats

      I remember when it was, “¡Cuidado…tu tío regresó bien protestante y masón de los Estados Unidos!”

  • momtarkle

    Hemant, your headline is misleading. The study reported on data for the year 2013, one data point in a timeline. What was the Catholic/unaffiliated ratio 5 years ago? 10? 25? You cannot state that there is a trend towards disassociating with the Catholic church (“Than Ever Before”) by looking only at one year’s data.

    • momtarkle

      Brilliant, Mom! You really nailed ol’ Hemant on that one. And, EVERYBODY that read your comment liked it!

  • BoricuaMilo

    Let’s start by dropping the ‘Hispanic’ name right here and now! This word was used by a Republican looking for a way to combine all Spanish-speaking peoples into one group for the 1980 census! Don’t know why they didn’t use Latino, maybe because they wanted to distinguish us from our fellow Latino-Brazilians? Don’t know, don’t care! But since then, the term ‘Hispanic’ brings to mind Republican Latinos (of the Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio type), morons I definitely do not identify with! ‘Latino’ is fine with me if you must, although I’d prefer ‘Boricua’! Gracias and pretty please! AND definitely not religious, but yes, a first gen recovering Catholic!