Nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe members of the clergy should refrain from promoting political candidates or discussing political issues in the pulpit, a new poll shows.
The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press survey, released Aug. 30, found that 63 percent of all respondents said it is never right for clergy to discuss candidates and issues from the pulpit. Thirty-one percent backed such pronouncements, while the remaining 6 percent said they did not know.
Pew data has consistently shown opposition to pulpit-based politicking. Even many evangelical Christians oppose it. This year, 56 percent of self-identified evangelicals said clergy should refrain from expressing political sentiments in church.
The poll showed a greater degree of support for other forms of church involvement in politics. Fifty-one percent of those asked said it is appropriate for religious organizations to speak out on political issues. Forty-four percent said they should not.
Federal law permits religious organizations to address political issues, and many do so. However, houses of worship and all non-profit groups that hold a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status are not permitted to endorse or oppose candidates in partisan races.
Backed by the Religious Right, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) has tried to change federal law to lift the ban on pulpit electioneering. But his effort has gained very little traction lately.
The poll also asked respondents a series of questions about religious influence over the Democratic and Republican parties. It found that, generally speaking, people worry that the Democrats are too hostile to religion and that the Republicans are too much under the sway of religious conservatives.
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said they think liberals have “gone too far” in trying to keep religion out of schools and government. Forty-five percent also say they believe Christian conservatives have “gone too far” in trying to impose their religious views on the country.