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Churchgoing Habits Big Factor in Residents’ Views on Issues : Survey results: Regular attendees are more conservative, with others opposing religious activism.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Although some of California’s most outspoken religious critics of abortion and gay rights are based in Orange County, The Times Orange County Poll has found that most local residents oppose such church-based activism.

The sweeping study of religious beliefs and practices also found that there is strong support countywide for a greater role for religion in the public schools.

The poll revealed a tolerant side to the county as a whole, which is relatively accepting of abortion rights. That is not, however, the case for people who regularly attend religious services.

“Churchgoers tend to lean more toward the right than the left,” said Mark Baldassare, who conducted the poll for The Times. “What I think we can tell is that churchgoers are decidedly more conservative in their opinions and beliefs, and that the rest of the county is much more likely to oppose church involvement on key political issues.”

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The poll, which surveyed 600 Orange County adults by telephone, found that 42% of residents are churchgoers (those who said they had been to church or the synagogue in the last seven days) and that the rest, 58%, attend religious services irregularly or not at all.

Baldassare said the survey found that “most Orange County residents take a dim view of religious institutions playing a role in politics.”

According to the poll, slightly more than half of county residents have an unfavorable view of “religious leaders and organized religion being involved in the anti-abortion movement” or “speaking out against homosexuality,” while about one in three have a favorable opinion of such advocacy.

There is a sharp difference on the issues between churchgoers and others. Almost half of churchgoers favor church activism against homosexuality and abortion rights, while nearly two-thirds of others in the county oppose such activity.

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Republicans are also far more supportive of such activism than Democrats.

The poll found other sharp distinctions in the political attitudes of those who regularly attend church and those who do not.

In the county and nationally, for example, a majority support a woman’s right to have an abortion. But among those who are churchgoers in Orange County, nearly two out of three said a woman should not be allowed to have an abortion “under any circumstances,” The Times Orange County Poll found.

In contrast, those who do not attend church regularly overwhelmingly support unrestricted abortion rights, by a 3-to-1 margin.

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Overall, 58% of Orange County resi dents favor abortion rights, a liberal point of view. That’s slightly higher than found by a national poll, which asked the same question in 1987. The national poll, however, was taken before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Webster decision gave states greater authority to restrict abortion, setting off a major political debate.

In Orange County, the poll found that Democrats strongly favor abortion rights and that even 52% of Republicans support the idea.

Though churchgoers and the county as a whole are split on the abortion issue, there is consensus on another key agenda item of the religious right: the role of religion in public schools.

The poll found that about six in 10 Orange County residents would permit the teaching of creation theory and allow prayer in public schools. Churchgoers give their overwhelming support; nearly three-quarters are in favor. Even among others in the county, a slight majority is in favor.

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The issue of whether the biblical version of the origin of mankind may be taught in public schools is a current one. Capistrano Valley High School teacher John Peloza filed suit against the school district in October after he was reprimanded for teaching creationism. School officials said they are mandated by the state Board of Education to teach evolution as the only scientific theory explaining the origin of life.

In addition to the majority view that favors legalized abortion, the poll found somewhat tolerant views concerning the hiring of homosexuals for the clergy. County residents are split almost evenly in their views, with 42% saying homosexuals should be hired and 40% saying they should not. Churchgoers, however, oppose the practice by a 2-to-1 margin, while others in the county who do not attend services regularly favor it by a similar margin.


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