Menu JTA Search

Poll Finds Jews Accepted in U.s., Rabbis Woried About Church-state

A poll touted as the most comprehensive ever regarding U.S. religious views has found that Jews are widely accepted in the United States and that rabbis are more concerned about issues of religion-state separation than are Christian clergy.

Four percent of 3,000 people polled at random in December said Jews “have too much power and influence.”

The poll, released here Wednesday by the Williamsburg Charter Foundation, also found that 61 percent felt “It’s O.K. for Jewish groups to give money to politicians who support Israel” and that 10 percent would refuse to vote for a Jewish candidate for president.

By comparison, a 1958 Gallup poll on religion found that 28 percent of U.S. citizens at that time could not support a Jew for president.

The December poll was conducted by the Center for Communication Dynamics, Washington, D.C., under the direction of Professor William Adams of George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

The poll found that while 51 percent favor a “high separation” between church and state, overwhelming majorities favored prayer in public schools, use of schools by student religious groups after-hours and display of creches and menorahs on public property.

The study also found a contrast between views of the public with those of certain leadership groups, including religious figures, academics, journalists and business leaders.

RABBIS, ACADEMICS AGREE

One apparent trend is that rabbis and academics agreed on church-state separation while priests and ministers often espoused a different viewpoint. Roughly 100 people were interviewed in each leadership group.

Eighty-eight percent of the rabbis felt “The Supreme Court is the best place to decide controversies about the separation of church and state.” By comparison, 87 percent of academics agreed and 65 percent of the population concurred.

Sixty-three percent of the rabbis said that “freedom of religion” was their first instinct when they heard the words “the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

By contrast, 45 percent of ministers, 44 percent of the academics and 42 percent of priests had the same reaction, although they for surpassed the national average of 4-percent concurrence.

While about 80 percent of the population, as well as ministers and priests, felt “It’s O.K. for a city government to put up candles on government property for a Jewish religious celebration,” 16 percent of the rabbis and 37 percent of the academics agreed.

They gave similar replies to a question regarding display of nativity scenes on public land.

Twenty-three percent of the rabbis and academics supported a moment of silence in public schools. By contrast, 77 percent of the population supported it, as did 74 percent of the ministers and 82 percent of the priests.

While 70 percent of the population, 75 percent of ministers and 83 percent of priests favored allowing the use of public school class rooms for voluntary religious activities, 28 percent of the rabbis concurred. The second most sensitive group in the sample was academics, at 54 percent.

The poll also found that 11 percent of the rabbis felt there is less religious tolerance today than “20 or 30 years ago.” By contrast, 44 percent of the ministers and 45 percent of the population agreed.

The rabbis were less offended than the population by the use of the “Jesus Christ” as an expletive in movies and television. While 39 percent of the rabbis found it bothersome, 57 percent of the general population felt that way.

Thirty-two percent of the rabbis and 55 percent of the academics felt secular humanism has a “good impact” on the country. In contrast, 12 percent of the ministers and 14 percent of the priests concurred.

DISAGREED ON SECULAR HUMANISM

In addition, the rabbis disagreed with ministers and priest on the question of whether public schools are “teaching the values of secular humanism.” While 24 percent of the rabbis thought so, 49 percent of the ministers and 61 percent of the priests agreed.

On tolerance for Islam, 4 percent of the rabbis felt “there is no place in America for the Moslem religion.”

Asked whether they feel Moral Majority “should stay out of politics,” 46 percent of the rabbis agreed. Among the various groups polled, only atheists (48 percent) and those 60 years or older (52 percent) opposed Moral Majority more than the rabbis did.

While 25 percent of the rabbis felt that racists, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan represented a threat to democracy, 27 percent also felt that evangelicals and fundamentalists — two conservative Christian denominations — pose such a threat.

The Williamsburg Charter Foundation was established last year to study the role of religion in the United States. It is officially recognized by the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution.

In June, it will hold a major celebration of religious liberty in this country and will disband at the end of the year.

NEXT STORY