Alabama

Play ball and belly up to the bar, even on Sunday: Influence of churches on the wane in South

  • This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows owner Dee Walker talking to a customer at The Fermenter’s Market at The Rex, a craft beer and wine shop now open on Sunday after voters in Sylacauga, Ala., decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

    This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows owner Dee Walker talking to a customer at The Fermenter’s Market at The Rex, a craft beer and wine shop now open on Sunday after voters in Sylacauga, Ala., decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)  (The Associated Press)

  • This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows the "Open Sunday" sign outside Marble City Grill in Sylacauga, Ala., where voters recently decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

    This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows the "Open Sunday" sign outside Marble City Grill in Sylacauga, Ala., where voters recently decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)  (The Associated Press)

  • This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows bartender Anna Gissendanner inside Marble City Grill in Sylacauga, Ala., where voters recently decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

    This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, shows bartender Anna Gissendanner inside Marble City Grill in Sylacauga, Ala., where voters recently decided to legalize alcohol sales on Sunday. The change is part of a broad pattern across the South as churches lose their grip on a region where they could long set community standards. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)  (The Associated Press)

There's a shift going on in the South: Churches are losing their grip on a region where they could long set community standards.

Youth sports teams now practice and play on Sundays, which were once off-limits because of church services. All but two Southern states have lotteries, and dozens of businesses in Mississippi now display gay-friendly stickers without fear of church-based repercussions.

In the central Alabama town of Sylacauga, the change is evident in bars that can now open on Sunday because of a recent citywide vote.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows 19 percent of Southerners don't identify with any organized religion, up 6 percentage points since 2007.

Pew researcher Jessica Martinez says the South is becoming more like the rest of the United States.