Report: Americans Still Favor Faith-Based Programs

Most Americans still support government funding for faith-based initiatives, according to a new report.

More than eight years after former President George W. Bush launched a program allowing churches and other religious organizations to receive federal funding to perform social services, 69 percent of Americans say they favor the initiative, the Pew Forum reported.

Only 25 percent oppose it.

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Young people (age 18-29) are more likely to support faith-based initiatives than older Americans.

At the same time, much of the public is concerned that the government might get too involved in religious organizations and that people who receive help from faith-based groups might be forced to take part in religious practices.

A little over half of the public say the separation of church and state is a major concern.

Some were surprised when then presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama said he would continue a faith-based initiatives program in the White House. After his election as president, Obama renamed the program Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, opening the program up to both secular and faith-based organizations.

"There is a force for good greater than government," Obama said earlier this year. A top priority of the faith-based office, he said, is to make the religious and secular organizations an integral part of the country's economic recovery.

Many Americans, however, are unaware of Obama's support for the initiative. Just over a quarter (27 percent) know that Obama favors allowing houses of worship to apply for government funding to provide social services and 18 percent incorrectly say the president opposes the policy.

Notably, most Americans believe religious organizations can do the best job feeding the homeless. Fifty-two percent agree, which is up from 40 percent in 2001. Less than a quarter say nonreligious groups and government agencies are best able to feed the homeless.

Americans are also more likely to say that religious organizations can best provide services for the needy, best mentor young people, and best counsel prisoners compared to nonreligious groups or government agencies.

Areas where religious organizations are not seen as being able to provide the best services include child care, drug treatment, health care and job training.

Amid economic challenges, 9 percent of Americans say they recently have turned to religious groups to help make ends meet while 7 percent say they sought help from nonreligious organizations.

Despite the wide support for religious groups receiving government funds, the Pew Forum revealed that fewer Americans are in favor of federal money going to groups that are not Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical or Jewish.

Less than half (48 percent) say Mormon churches should be eligible for government funds. Only 39 percent say Muslim mosques should be able to receive such funds.

In other findings, only 21 percent of the public say groups receiving government funding should be able to hire only people who share their religious beliefs. The hiring policy is also widely opposed by Protestants, Catholics and evangelicals, through a larger minority of evangelicals (33 percent) say the practice should be permitted.

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 4,013 adults, 18 years of age or older. Interviews were conducted in August 2009.

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