The majority of Americans say religion's influence on the country is declining and most view this trend as a bad thing. The latest Pew Research survey measured the controversial relationship between religion and politics.
The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found 59 percent of Americans continue to say that religion's influence on American life is decreasing and half say the decline is a bad thing. American opinion on religion's influence on the government, however, is divided with 42 percent saying it is increasing and 45 percent saying it is falling. And most of those who said it was on the rise view it as a bad thing.
Although religion's influence may be on the decline, 67 percent characterize the U.S. as a Christian nation. Divided among people groups, more whites than blacks hold this view and people ages 50 and older are more likely to express this view than are younger people.
Another major finding was that 69 percent of Americans say that liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government. Yet the percentage of people who say Christian conservatives have gone too far in imposing religious values on the country rose from 45 to 49 percent in the past year.
The Democratic Party continues to face a serious "God problem," according to the report, with just 26 percent saying the party is friendly to religion. However, the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion, while much larger, has fallen from 55 percent to 47 percent in the past year, with a particularly sharp decline coming among white evangelical Protestants (14 percent).
Views of the white evangelical group were reported to be sharply distinct from that of other religious groups and the rest of the public. Six in ten white evangelical Protestants say that the Bible should be the guiding principle in making laws when it conflicts with the will of the people. In contrast, most secular and even Catholic and white mainline Protestants rejected such a view.
In other matters, 62 percent of white evangelicals say the Bible is the actual Word of God, to be taken literally while only 35 percent of the public including 17 percent of white mainline Protestants share this literal view of the Scriptures. Still, most believe the Bible is God's Word, but not everything in it is literally true.
The most popular policy issue addressed in the churches is hunger and poverty followed by abortion, the situation in Iraq and laws regarding homosexuals. Regarding politics, 51 percent say churches should express their views on social and political questions while 46 percent believe they should keep out of such matters.
In general, the public remains more positive than negative about the Christian conservative movement with 44 percent saying they have a favorable view and 36 percent saying their view is unfavorable.
The national survey was conducted July 6-19 among 2,003 adults.