NEW YORK (AP) -- A post-campaign poll from a secular think tank found that Americans are wary of religion in the political arena but want more of it in public schools and think U.S. society would benefit if more people became devout.
Religion is the best way to strengthen moral behavior and family values, 69 percent of those polled said. Decreasing greed, materialism and crime, increasing volunteering and charity work, and better child-rearing are likely if ''many more Americans were to become deeply religious,'' participants said by majorities ranging from 69 percent to 87 percent.
The November poll of 1,507 U.S. adults was conducted Public Agenda, a nonpartisan New York-based policy research agency founded by former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and pollster Daniel Yankelovich. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent. A report on the poll was being released Wednesday at a Brookings Institution forum in Washington.
Fully 74 percent agreed that ''it's a bad idea for families to raise children without any religion.'' Seventy-four percent said school prayer teaches children that belief in God is important, and 56 percent consider it an effective means of improving youngsters' behavior.
But majorities said school prayer can be unfair to some families and students, which apparently explained why there was far more support for a nonsectarian ''moment of silence'' in classrooms (53 percent) than prayers addressed to God (20 percent) or to Jesus (6 percent). Nineteen percent opposed all such observances.
Public Agenda President Deborah Wadsworth said the results show Americans ''believe religion has enormous power to elevate peoples' behavior and address many societal problems.'' But, she said, they have ''an almost instinctive wariness of injecting religion directly into politics.''
Religious themes were unusually prominent during the 2000 campaign, in part because Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, spoke openly of his faith.
Seventy-four percent in the poll thought politicians who talk about their faith ''are just saying what people want to hear.'' Only 26 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who always decides on the basis of religious convictions. Most said compromise is necessary for government officials.
Sixty-four percent expressed dissatisfaction with mass media treatment of religion, and 56 percent thought too many journalists are biased against believers.
Such feelings were even more marked among evangelicals, who made up 24 percent of those surveyed. Better than two-thirds of the evangelicals felt there is considerable prejudice against them in American society.
Public Agenda's research director, Steve Farkas, said he was struck by evangelicals' sense that they are ''a discriminated minority.'' He said they think, in effect, that ''we expect to be looked down on because we talk about God very easily, and a lot of things are happening in society that we don't agree with.''
Jews (2 percent of the American public) and agnostics, atheists and other non-religious citizens (13 percent) generally took a dubious view of any higher profile for religion in public life.
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