- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Americans are far more likely to consider religion central to their lives and to support giving clergy a say in public policy than people in nine countries that are close allies, an AP-Ipsos poll shows.

Religion and public policy often mix in the United States. Examples include the bitter fight over the appointment of judges and the fate of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose feeding tube was removed to enable her to starve despite efforts by Congress to overturn court orders.

When politicians in the United States try to blend religion and politics, they find a comparatively receptive climate.

Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith was important to them and only 2 percent said they do not believe in God, according to the polling conducted for the Associated Press by Ipsos.

Almost 40 percent in the United States said religious leaders should try to sway policy-makers. That number was notably higher than in other countries.

“Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian policies and religious leaders have an obligation to speak out on public policy; otherwise, they’re wimps,” said David Black, a retiree from Osborne, Pa., who agreed to be interviewed after he was polled.

About 61 percent said religious leaders should not influence government decisions.

“I think religion and politics are too closely intertwined in this country,” said Dillon Hickman, a businessman from Uniontown, Ohio, near Akron. “A lot of religious leaders take too active a position in politics.”

In Western Europe, where Pope Benedict XVI complains that growing secularism has left churches unfilled on Sundays, people are the least likely to believe among the 10 countries surveyed for the Associated Press by Ipsos.

Only Mexicans come close to Americans in embracing faith, among the countries polled. Unlike Americans, Mexicans strongly object to clergy lobbying lawmakers.

The polling was conducted in May in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea and Spain.

“The United States is a much more religious country than other similar countries, looks a lot like what you call developing countries, like Mexico, Iran and Indonesia,” said John Green, a researcher on religion and politics at the University of Akron.

In the United States, some of the most pressing policy issues involve moral questions — such as same-sex “marriage,” abortion and stem-cell research — that understandably draw religious leaders into public debate, Mr. Green said.

The poll found Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to think clergy should influence government decisions in the United States.

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