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Most Americans say the federal government is more responsible than organized religion for caring for the poor, according to a recent review of poll data.

“A review of Gallup poll data shows that, on one hand, Americans are very religious but that, on the other hand, Americans have been more likely to think that government, not churches, has the greatest responsibility for helping the poor,” wrote Wendy Simmons for Gallup News Service.
Data on public opinions related to federal funding for faith-based organizations point to a majority opinion that poverty is a problem for the federal government to alleviate, wrote Simmons. But Gallup has not explored public opinion about “proposed partnership between religious organizations and government.”
A majority (55 percent) of Americans said in a 1995 poll that the government is “more responsible for assistance to the poor,” while 28 percent thought religious organizations should hold more of the responsibility.
In 1998, “a plurality” of Americans (32 percent) said the government should be most responsible for helping the poor, while 14 percent designated responsibility to churches. More than a fourth (28 percent) said the poor should be responsible for helping themselves, wrote Simmons.
Critics of federal funding for faith-based organizations say using public funds to help fund religious organizations is a violation of the Constitution’s demand for separation of church and state, she wrote.
“Although there has always been an interesting and heated debate over the place of religion in government and the lives of public officials, one fact is undisputed,” wrote Simmons. “Americans are generally quite religious.”
Religion is the second most trusted social institution for most (56 percent) of U.S. residents, according to a 2000 Gallup poll. Military is the most trusted social institution among 64 percent of respondents. And Congress is trusted least with only 24 percent of Americans expressing trust in the institution.
Most Americans have a “high level of confidence” in organized religion generally, “though the number of people expressing confidence has dwindled somewhat since the 1970s,” wrote Simmons.
Sarah Griffith is BCE’s communications director.

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