March 18, 2001

As millions prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover, a recent survey reveals that most Americans are optimistic about the capacity of religion to improve contemporary society, although they are wary about directly injecting religion into the country's politics, according to "For Goodness' Sake: Why So Many Want Religion to Play a Greater Role in American Life," by nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Agenda. The survey was conducted with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

"For Goodness' Sake," comprised of over 100 questions, is comprehensive and probes how typical Americans think about religion in American life.

Highlights include:

Kids Benefit from Religion

-- Majorities say if more Americans were to become more religious it's likely parents would do a better job of raising kids (85%).

-- Sixty-nine percent say "more religion is the best way to strengthen family values and moral behavior."

-- But 53% of Americans -- matched by 53% of evangelical Christians -- say that public schools should deal with the issue of prayer in the classroom by having a moment of silence, not through expressly religious prayer. Majorities of Jews, expressing greater concern, say they believe that school prayer embarrasses and isolates some students.

Most nonreligious Americans agree.

-- Just over half of Americans (52%) feel the public schools are often going overboard and taking the meaning out of holiday celebrations for most students by limiting the use of religious symbols during holiday celebrations.

Other notable findings include:

Discussing Religion at Work

-- Six in ten Americans (60%) say people should bring up their religious beliefs at their workplace with coworkers only with care, while another 30% say it is best to avoid the topic altogether.

It's Wrong to Base Voting on Religion

-- About six in ten Americans feel that when deeply religious elected officials vote on controversial issues such as abortion (57%), gay rights (60%) and the death penalty (60%), they should be willing to compromise with other elected officials whose views are different.

However, evangelical Christians are more likely to say officials should vote based on their own religious views.

The study is based on a national survey of 1,507 members of the general public, focus groups from across the country and consultations with experts on the topic of religion and public life. It also reports the views of evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews, and nonreligious Americans.

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