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Poll Says Church-Going Americans are Less Tolerant Than Others

Religious voters are less tolerant of other views on issues they consider important now than they were four years ago, according to a new study.

A Public Agenda survey on religion in public life released Sunday found significant shifts in the percentages of Americans who believe elected leaders should vote based on their own religious views rather than compromise on issues like abortion and gay rights.

The trend is strongest among voters who say they attend church once a week or more.

Just under three fourths of Americans (74 percent) said the following statement comes close to their view: “Even elected officials who are deeply religious sometimes have to make compromises and set their convictions aside to get results while in government.” That is 10 percent fewer than the 84 percent who answered the question that way in 2000.

Among those identifying themselves as evangelicals, support for political compromise dropped from 79 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2004. Fewer than two in three (63 percent) people who attend church once a week said they agreed with the statement, down from 82 percent.

Barely half (55 percent) of those who attend church more than once a week thought politicians should compromise their religious convictions in order to get results. That compares to three fourths (75 percent) who said so four years ago.

Sixty percent of frequent church attenders (more than once a week) said politicians who are deeply religious should vote based on their own religious views when it comes to gay rights, while 29 percent said they should be willing to compromise with those holding another view. Sixty-nine percent of frequent worshippers opposed compromise on abortion, while 23 percent said compromise on the issue is acceptable.

“Compromise has a long and important history in American politics,” Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, a non-partisan public policy research firm, said in a news release. “But in 2004 there were more Americans who wanted elected officials to keep their religious principles in mind when they vote on issues like abortion and gay rights.”

Wooden told Reuters the trends could indicate that religion has become “more prominent in American discourse,” but it could also indicate “more polarized political thinking.”

“There do not seem to be very many voices arguing for compromise today,” she said in an interview.

About a third of Americans (33 percent) think the nation’s political system would be threatened if religious leaders and groups were to become a lot more involved in politics. That’s up two points compared to 31 percent four years ago.

Not surprisingly, that feeling ran strongest among the non-religious, 47 percent of whom said the system would be threatened compared to 46 percent who said the system could handle more religious involvement in politics.

The poll, conducted before the 2004 elections, found that Americans are growing bolder about pushing their faith on others, even at the risk of offending them. Forty-one percent said deeply religious people should spread the word of God whenever they can, 6 percent more than in 2000.

The percentage of Americans thinking believers should be careful about offending people declined from 46 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2004. About one in five (21 percent) said religious people “should keep their faith a private matter altogether.”

“The truth is, many Christians now think intolerance is virtuous,” <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists wrote in a Weblog. He quoted from writings of R.J. Rushdoony, whose “Christian Reconstructionism” is popular among some conservative Christians, as a possible influence.

“In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal and the adherents of other religions,” Rushdoony, who died in 2001, wrote in his Institutes of Biblical Law.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.