October 2005 Church & State | People & Events

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.