Americans Want Religion to Stay Out of Politics, New Survey Finds

While Americans largely have a positive view of the role of religion in public life, they overwhelmingly want religious institutions to stay out of politics, a new survey from the Pew Research Center has found.

Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults believe churches and other houses of worship should "keep out" of political matters. When asked if religious institutions should endorse political candidates, 76 percent say no. And a plurality of adults—at 37 percent—believe that religious groups already have "too much" political influence.

[Read the full report below.]

Despite the relative consensus regarding political speech from religions institutions, the Trump administration and some conservatives have been pushing for changes to federal tax law that currently prohibits non-profits—which include religious groups—from engaging in direct political advocacy.

A May 2017 executive order signed by Trump sought to alleviate some pressures on religious groups that constrain their political speech, but did not change any pertinent law regarding these restrictions.

On the whole, Americans still believe religion is a positive force in American society, even if they don't want these organizations to mingle with politics. Fifty-five percent of U.S. adults say that churches and other religious organizations do more good than harm and a similar proportion believes that religion strengthens morality in society, Pew found.

In the face of numerous high-profile scandals regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic church and attempts to conceal thousands of allegations, the American people's confidence in religious leaders does not appear to have suffered substantially.

Sixty-five percent of U.S. adults believe that religious leaders, in general, have high or very high ethical standards.

Certain attitudes about religion were also expressed along partisan lines. A slight majority of Americans believe that the Republican Party is friendly towards religion. By contrast, less than 20 percent of Americans think the same about the Democratic Party.

Members of the two parties also break with each other on some perceptions of religious influence. Almost three-quarters of Republicans think religious institutions do more good than harm in American society. Less than half of Democrats do.

And while both parties overwhelmingly agree that religion is losing influence in American life, 63 percent of Republicans say this is a bad thing, whereas 27 percent of Democrats also believe the same.

If rules were loosened about religious participation in political discussion, it is not clear what immediate impact this could have on political influence, the Pew survey suggests. Seventy percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats report attending a religious institution in which they already agree with the clergy's political expressions.

The survey was conducted in March and April, and has a margin of error of between 1.7 and 2.4 percentage points depending on the question.

US President Donald Trump is seen with Pastor Paula White at an event honoring Evangelical leadership in the State Dining Room of the White House on August 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/Getty