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“To be an atheist in America is to be unusual,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s a position you have to tend and you have to fight for. You can’t just kind of take it for granted.”

Atheists and agnostics also knew more about world religions than any other group surveyed, with 86 percent correctly identifying the Koran as the Islamic holy book, whereas just 52 percent of Protestants and 44 percent of Catholics knew that.

White Protestants and Catholics scored significantly higher on the survey than ethnic minorities of the same religions (black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics), and those with a college education tended to do better than those with a high school diploma or less. Those who took a class on religion in college also had a higher overall religious knowledge than those who did not.

The survey did not have enough Muslims to break out as a separate group and provide details of their knowledge of their own and others’ religions.

The Pew quiz also had sections on how religion is handled in the U.S. as a political matter, and Americans tended to think restrictions on religion are tighter than they are.

While 68 percent of those polled could correctly identify what the U.S. Constitution says about religion and government, just 23 percent of survey participants knew that a public school teacher can use the Bible as an example of literature, and 36 percent knew that teachers can teach a comparative-religion class.

America has “systematically educated them about knowledge of the separation of church and state, but we never educated them with knowledge of the things that are being separated,” said Joseph Bottum, editor of the New York-based religious journal First Things.

Republican participants averaged 17.5 correct answers, while Democrats averaged a score of 15.9 and independents scored 15.7; those who identified themselves as liberal averaged 16.7 correct responses, conservatives 16.6 and moderates 16.2.