- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A poll conducted in the wake of Houston’s move to subpoena sermons shows that voters overwhelmingly agree religious leaders should be able to stand up for their beliefs without government prosecution.

A Rasmussen Reports survey released Tuesday found 77 percent of likely U.S. voters don’t believe “the government should be allowed to prosecute religious leaders for comments that criticize government and social policies that violate the basic beliefs of their religion.”

Just 14 percent said government should be able to prosecute religious leaders for those reasons.

At the same time, 34 percent said religious leaders are engaging in politics when they “criticize government policies that violate the basic beliefs of their religion.” Another 40 percent disagreed, saying religious leaders were not engaging in politics under those circumstances, while 26 percent were undecided.

Asked if it was a hate crime for religious leaders to criticize social policies, such as gay marriage, that violate the tenets of their faith, 63 percent said no and 24 percent said yes. Thirteen percent were undecided.

Voters remain evenly divided on whether religious leaders have too much influence on policy. Thirty-one percent said they have too much influence, 30 percent said they don’t have enough influence, and 30 percent said their influence is about right.

“These attitudes haven’t changed since we first asked this question five years ago,” said the Rasmussen analysis.

A strong majority — 78 percent — said their religious faith was important or very important in their daily life. Just 19 percent said faith is not very or not at all important.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker agreed last week to remove sermons from subpoenas against five local pastors who have challenged the city’s law allowing opposite-sex bathroom use.

The survey polled 1,000 likely voters from Oct. 17-18, 2014, with a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

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