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12/01/05 FOX Poll: Courts Driving Religion Out of Public Life; Christianity Under Attack

Most Americans think the nation's courts have gone too far in taking religion out of public life, and large majorities favor allowing voluntary school prayer, keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and allowing nativity scenes on government property, according to the latest FOX News poll. And while many Americans think Christianity is under attack in the United States today, more disagree than agree there is a "war on Christmas."

The new poll finds that almost eight in 10 Americans (77 percent) believe the courts have overreached in driving religion out of public life, and a 59 percent majority feels Christianity is under attack.

Majorities of Republicans (89 percent), Democrats (73 percent) and independents (69 percent) think the courts have gone too far in taking religion out of public life.

Overall, most Americans disagree with several Supreme Court rulings on the separation of church and state. For example, an overwhelming 87 percent favor allowing public schools to set aside time for a moment of silence, and 82 percent favor allowing voluntary prayer. Another 82 percent favor allowing public schools to have a prayer at graduation ceremonies, and 83 percent think nativity scenes should be allowed on public property.

Not only do three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) think posting the Ten Commandments on government property should be legal, but also two-thirds (66 percent) say it is a good idea to post the commandments in public schools.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on November 29-30.

Last month, a suit was filed in federal court to remove the motto "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency and coins: 93 percent of Americans think the motto should stay put.

Similarly, 90 percent think the phrase "under God" should remain in the Pledge of Allegiance.

These views may be driven, at least in part, by the fact that a large majority of Americans (81 percent) disagree with those that think all religion should be excluded from public life, and more than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) believe religion plays too small a role in most people’s lives today.

In addition, nearly half (49 percent) think religion is under attack in America today — almost three times as many as think religion has too much influence (17 percent). One in five (22 percent) think the current standing of religion is "about right."

"Religion has traditionally played a large role in public life in the United States," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "At a time when so many public leaders from the president on down are so overtly religious, it is somewhat odd to see half the public thinking religion is under attack. If it's 'under attack,' it certainly can't be losing."

The portion that thinks religion is under attack increases to 61 percent among people who attend religious services weekly and 72 percent among self-identified Evangelical Christians. In addition, Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely than Democrats to believe religion is under attack.

Religious Attendance

A large minority of Americans (42 percent) say they attend religious services at least once a week, while a majority attends less frequently: 12 percent attend almost every week, 12 percent once a month and about a third attend seldom (18 percent) or never (11 percent).

The main reasons people say they attend services are to feel the power of God (39 percent), to participate in a family tradition (14 percent) and to enjoy the sense of community (8 percent).

Almost seven in 10 Americans (67 percent) say they pray every day; among those attending religious services weekly 85 percent pray every day and among Evangelical Christians 80 percent do. Overall, few Americans (6 percent) say they never pray.

The Days Between Now and New Year's

In some schools and other public establishment across the country Christmas Trees have been renamed Holiday Trees or Friendship Trees. There have been news reports about stores that have stopped using "Merry Christmas" in advertising and have told employees specifically not to welcome customers with that greeting. Is that offensive?

A slim 52 percent majority says no, they are not offended if a Christmas tree is called a holiday tree, while just over four in 10 (44 percent) are offended by the name change. The split is closer on stores that make policies against using "Merry Christmas," as 45 percent say it does offend them and 49 percent say it doesn't.

Many Americans (58 percent) say it seems that public displays of the Christian symbols of Christmas are more under attack this year than in the past, up from 51 percent who felt that way last year. Even so, by 48 percent to 42 percent, people disagree there is a "war on Christmas" in the United States today.

Virtually all Americans — 95 percent — say they celebrate Christmas, 4 percent celebrate Hanukkah and 3 percent Kwanzaa.

A 57 percent majority considers Christmas a religious holiday, 14 percent see it as a cultural holiday and 27 percent see it as both. Americans consider a Christmas tree a cultural symbol (69 percent) rather than a religious one (14 percent).

What about Santa? Most people see Santa Claus as a cultural symbol (87 percent), while 4 percent say he’s a religious symbol.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.