Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) currently say that religion is losing its influence on American life, up from 59 percent who said the same in July 2006, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center.
And, as in the past, most of those who say that religion has less influence on American life see this development as a bad thing – 53 percent of the total public says it is a bad thing while just 10 percent see it as a good thing.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the involvement of churches and other houses of worship in political matters, Americans are more divided, with a narrow majority (52 percent) saying houses of worship should keep out of political matters.
Forty-three percent, meanwhile, say houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. But when it comes to endorsing specific candidates for public office, 70 percent of American surveyed said churches should not come out in favor of candidates during political elections while just a quarter (24 percent) supports such endorsements.
"More than half of every major religious group opposes such endorsements," authors of the latest Pew study noted.
Pew's latest study, based on a national sample of 3,003 adults living in the continental United States, was conducted in English and Spanish from July 21 to Aug. 5.
The survey covered a number of questions pertaining to religion and politics – the main topics being President Obama and Religion, Religion and the 2010 Elections, and Religion and Politics in general.
Though opinions regarding houses of worship and politics changed little since 2008, the percentages saying the Republican and Democratic parties are friendly to religion have declined over the past two years.
A plurality of the public (43 percent) sees the Republican Party as generally friendly toward religion while 26 percent say the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion. In 2008, a narrow majority of the public (52 percent) said the Republican Party was friendly to religion while 38 percent said the Democratic Party is friendly to religion.
Notably, there is no political or religious group in which a majority views the Democratic Party as friendly to religion. Even among Democrats themselves, just 42 percent say the party is friendly to religion, down slightly from last year (47 percent).
Another interesting finding of the study is that, while the public expressed reservations about churches' involvement in politics, there was widespread agreement that politicians should be religious.
According to Pew, 61 percent say it is important that members of Congress have strong religious beliefs while just 34 percent disagree.