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Tom Gjelten

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For more than 30 years, conservative evangelical Christians have been tied to the Republican Party. While the pattern seems to be holding this year, with most conservative white Christians supporting Donald Trump, some evangelical leaders are now questioning the logic behind the political alliance.

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Freedom of religion is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but to Dan Meyer, a North Carolina businessman, that does not mean the Founding Fathers were not inspired by God.

"Many documents demonstrate that they really received divine guidance in putting together that constitution," he says. "It's not the Bible. It is a man-made document. But most of the writers of that document acknowledged that God gave them guidance and wisdom in putting that document together."

Fifteen years after the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans have grown aware not only of the danger of terrorism but also of the reality that their nation is far less white, Christian and European than it used to be.

"Culturally, we're a country of Bollywood and bhangra and tai chi and yoga and salsa and burritos and halal and kosher," says Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University and author of A New Religious America.

Hundreds of Catholics have been declared saints in recent decades, but few with the acclaim accorded Mother Teresa, set to be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, largely in recognition of her service to the poor in India.

"When I was coming of age, she was the living saint," says the Most Rev. Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "If you were saying, 'Who is someone today that would really embody the Christian life?' you would turn to Mother Teresa of Calcutta."

Churchgoing Americans say their preachers often speak out on hot social and political issues and occasionally back or oppose particular candidates in defiance of U.S. law prohibiting such endorsements.

(Editor's note: Both major presidential candidates this year are Protestants. Both of their running mates were raised as Catholics. Beyond that, their faith profiles are very different. We dug into the faiths of the Republican candidates below and of the Democratic ticket here.)

(Editor's note: Both major presidential candidates this year are Protestants. Both of their running mates were raised as Catholics. Beyond that, their faith profiles are very different. We dug into the faiths of the Democratic candidates below and of the Republican ticket here.)

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A newspaper correspondent observing Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration in March 1865 — delivered to a crowd "as far as the eye could reach" — noted that the president laid his right hand on a Bible and, facing Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase, swore to preserve, protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.

"Then," the reporter noted, "solemnly repeating 'So help me God!' he bent forward and reverently kissed the Book."

The Jews who immigrated to America in the early 20th century brought with them their history as a persecuted people. Many were fleeing pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, and those experiences bonded them to other groups that also faced discrimination.

America's culture war, waged in recent years over gender roles, sexuality and the definition of marriage, is increasingly being fought inside evangelical Christian circles. On one side are the Christians determined to resist trends in secular society that appear to conflict with biblical teaching. On the other side are the evangelicals willing to live with those trends.

For Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the key question is "whether or not there is a binding morality to which everyone is accountable."

The global refugee crisis, political strife and economic dislocation all contributed to a worldwide deterioration of religious freedom in 2015 and an increase in "societal intolerance," according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve," says Princeton professor Robert George, the USCIRF chairman. "At worst, they've spiraled downward."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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