In U.S., a growing unease at mixing politics with prayer

Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:19pm EDT
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By Stephanie Simon

(Reuters) - Americans are increasingly uneasy with the mingling of religion and politics, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, in the midst of a campaign season punctuated by tussles over the role of faith in the public square.

Back in 2001, when Pew first asked the question, just 12 percent of Americans complained that their politicians talked too much about religion.

That number has risen steadily ever since and hit a record high in the new poll: 38 percent of Americans, including 24 percent of Republicans, now say their political leaders are overdoing it with their expressions of faith and prayer.

And more Americans than ever, 54 percent, believe churches should keep out of politics. That's up from 43 percent in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center.

The national poll of 1,503 adults, which has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted in early March, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was ramping up its vigorous campaign against a new federal mandate requiring all insurance companies to provide free birth control.

The bishops continue to press that fight. Just last week, they issued a statement declaring they were "strongly unified and intensely focused" on battling the contraception mandate.

A leading voice in that campaign, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, this week was promoted to Archbishop of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI.

Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, said Americans have generally tolerated and even encouraged religious leaders to speak out on broad political issues, including capital punishment, immigration and poverty.   Continued...