Matters of faith

Polls measure views on religion

Months after the most religiously charged election in decades, pollsters are trying to gauge how faith is shaping Americans' expectations for politics and other areas of public life.

Recent surveys reveal keen interest in religion having more influence on the nation's moral climate. Yet the proportion of those uneasy with religion's role continues to rise. About 33 percent say it has too much influence, according to a January Gallup poll (up from 22 percent in January 2001).

Americans' outlook on the importance of political compromise is also shifting, as controversial issues touch on deeply held religious convictions. A growing number of people say that elected officials should stick to their religious principles rather than seek compromise when they deal with such issues as gay marriage, war, stem-cell research, and the death penalty.

Between 2000 and 2004, the support for compromise in general dropped by 10 percent, from 84 percent to 74 percent, according to Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group. On specific controversial issues such as abortion and gay rights, only slim majorities back an effort to compromise.

"Compromise has a long and important history in American politics," says Ruth Wooden, Public Agenda's president. "This nation is still struggling with the challenges and benefits of compromising ... and working through the role of religion."

According to a poll by Barna Research Group, Americans express strong support for the symbolic role of faith in public life, as in placing the Ten Commandments in public sites (79 percent). About 59 percent say they back teaching creationism in public schools.

Surveys reveal a polarized public, with a majority of Republicans - and particularly those who are regular churchgoers - seeking more religion in political life, and a majority of Democrats wanting less. Still, Americans remain convinced that the US political system can "easily handle" a greater interaction of religion and politics, with 61 percent seeing no threat to the system, according to Public Agenda findings.

Saudi documents studied

What impact might religious tracts disseminating Saudi Arabia's form of Islam have on American life? That's the question raised by a recent report on 200 documents published by the Saudi government that are among materials available in some US mosques.

Spurred partly by concerns from US Muslims, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom carried out a year-long review of the documents, mostly in Arabic. The report concludes that they contain "a totalitarian ideology of hate that can incite to violence," including antipathy toward Christians and Jews, and contempt for the US system.

"Hate-filled literature anywhere in a mosque should be removed," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council for American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "But I don't think the excerpts in the report reflect the reality or experience of the American Muslim community, and we can rely on the good judgment and common sense of Muslims to reject such thinking if they come across it."

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