Growing Concern About Religious Right Power

Are Americans finally waking up to the stranglehold the Religious Right has over the government?

A new USA Today/Gallup poll give some cause for hope. By a 2-1 margin, Americans now say the Religious Right has too much rather than too little influence over the Bush administration. Thirty-nine percent agreed that religious conservatives have too much influence, with 18 percent saying there is too little. Other polls taken in 2001 and 2003 found Americans split down the middle over the question.

The movement may be modest, but it's in the right direction. There's some indication that the growing concern stems from Religious Right-instigated government interference in the Terri Schiavo case.

Congress' intervention in the fate of Mrs. Schiavo remains unpopular. Seventy-six percent say they disagree with Congress' action in the case, while only 20 percent approve. By a 53 percent to 34 percent margin, Americans also disagree with President George W. Bush's involvement in the matter.

Mark Rozell, a George Mason University professor who tracks issues related to religion and politics, said the Schiavo case has created a "clear backlash."

"It's one thing to look at religious conservatives as part of a broad coalition that makes up the Republican Party," Rozell told USA Today. "It's entirely another if people think that religious conservatives are calling the shots in the Bush administration for what was a deeply personal situation."

Interestingly, the poll also found that the traditional image of the Republican Party as the political body that champions limited government and self-determination is eroding - probably thanks to the Religious Right.

Fifty-five percent of Americans now agree that the GOP is "trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans" on moral issues.

In another interesting finding, Americans were asked to rank the issues they want to see Congress deal with this year. Terrorism, health care costs and gas prices topped the list. Coming in dead last was the Religious Right top concern - "changes to how the federal courts handle moral issues," which was labeled "extremely important" by only 20 percent of respondents.