Americans Increasingly Uneasy When Politicians Talk Religion


March 22, 2012

A growing number of Americans are uneasy with the amount of religious talk they’re hearing from politicians, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center yesterday.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders — the highest number since Pew began asking the question in 2001. Thirty percent of respondents said there is too little.

The numbers have nearly reversed since Pew last asked the question two years ago, when 37 percent said there was too little religious expression by politicians, while 29 percent said there was too much.

The poll was taken in early March, in the midst of the furor over a federal mandate that insurance companies provide free birth control. A number of religious groups, most prominently the Catholic Conference of Bishops, argued that the move was tantamount to an assault on religious freedom.

Of course, there’s nothing new about the debate over the appropriate role of religion in politics and public life, as FRONTLINE and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE explored two years ago, in our joint series God in America. Since the days when the Puritan “city on a hill” beckoned on the horizon of the New World, religious faith and belief have forged America’s ideals, molded its identity and shaped its sense of mission at home and abroad — but not without controversy.

The series — which you can watch in full here — examines how religious dissidents helped shape the American concept of religious liberty and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation’s courts and political arena; how religious freedom and waves of new immigrants and religious revivals fueled competition in the religious marketplace; how movements for social reform — from abolition to civil rights — galvanized men and women to put their faith into political action; and how religious faith influenced conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War.

Bonus: Test your religious literacy with this quiz, and see how you compare to the average American.

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