Star-Bulletin Features

Religion poll
asks about Islam

The annual survey charts
attitudes of Americans about
religion and public life

By Mary Adamski

About half of Americans think religion has too little influence in the world today, but even more see religion as playing a role in wars and conflicts, according to a nationwide poll.

The public overwhelmingly rejected the notion that the Sept. 11 tragedy was a sign of God's disfavor toward the United States, in the annual survey about religion and public life.

Some 2,002 people across the country responded to telephone researchers for the poll released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. The poll was conducted Feb. 25 to March 10.

Questions reflected current events such as:

>> Child abuse involving Catholic priests. Some 62 percent of the participants, and 56 percent of Catholic respondents, believe Catholic Church leaders tried to cover up the problem rather than deal with it.

>> Moral implications of the Enron case. The case is a sign that morals in American business are declining, said 63 percent, and 58 percent said business executives try to avoid obeying laws.

>> Punishing terrorists. Support for the death penalty for people convicted of terrorism was 76 percent, compared with 66 percent in favor of the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

>> Help for Afghanistan. About half of the public, 49 percent, said the United States should aid Afghanistan; 43 percent did not want the country to get involved.

>> By 70 percent to 22 percent, Americans do not want churches to endorse political candidates.

A considerable section of the poll was devoted to American views of Islam and Muslims.

Muslim Americans were rated favorably by 54 percent of the participants, negatively by 22 percent, with 24 percent not rating.


There was a difference in how people viewed Muslims as individuals and perceptions of Islam in general. Asked to rate the religion, 41 percent were favorable, 24 percent were unfavorable and 35 percent had no opinion.

To the question "Does your own religion have much in common with Islam?" 57 percent found Islam very different, while 27 percent saw "a lot in common" and 16 percent did not know.

The Pew Forum found that younger Americans were more likely to express a favorable view of Muslim Americans, as were college-educated respondents. It found the least favorable view of Islam among respondents who identified themselves as highly committed white evangelical Protestants. Some 78 percent said they had little common ground with Islam, while a similar view was held by 53 percent of white mainline Protestants and 45 percent of white Catholics.

When asked to consider lessons from the terrorist attacks, the response was nearly 2-to-1 that religion has too little influence in world. That view was taken by 51 percent of the total sample and by 73 percent of people who identify themselves as highly religious. Of those who identify as being of low religiosity, 48 percent said the bigger lesson is that religion is too influential.

Just 5 percent believe that Sept. 11 signaled that God is no longer protecting America, while 91 percent rejected that premise.

As to the role of religion in causing conflicts, 34 percent said it has a great deal of influence, and 31 percent said it has "a fair amount" to do with wars.

Religion's influence in the world is currently in decline, said 50 percent, of whom 85 percent said that is a bad trend. Of the 38 percent who saw the influence as increasing, 73 percent said the trend was a good thing.

Three-quarters of the participants said many religions can lead to eternal life. Just 18 percent said their own faith was the only path.

Of people 30 years and older, 62 percent said the strength of American society is based on the religious faith of people. Just 46 percent of younger people agreed, while 52 percent of those said society would be just as strong if most did not have religious faith.

"Are people as honest and moral as they used to be?"

No, said 73 percent, and 21 percent said yes.

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