Student survey reports on religion and politics, society

Yelena Kibasova

UEditor’s note: This story is the last in a series that examines students’ experiences with different faiths. Today’s story looks at additional results of a Minnesota Daily survey on religion.

1niversity students, with a wide range of religious beliefs, express a wide range of support and opposition on societal topics.

According to a Minnesota Daily survey, more than half of University students say religious beliefs are beneficial to society. On the other hand, 29 percent of those surveyed said religious beliefs are harmful to society.

“Religion is a complicated social phenomenon that has both socially positive and socially problematic dimensions,” said sociology professor Douglas Hartmann. “You’d find that split in most people – a recognition that it’s multifaceted and contradictory.”

When it comes to politics, 53 percent of students said political candidates should not discuss their religious beliefs publicly. Similarly, 60 percent said it is not important that the president has strong religious beliefs.

“In general, when we do surveys, college student samples tend to be more liberal than the population as a whole,” said Christopher Federico, an assistant professor of psychology and political science.

Overall, students lean toward keeping organized religious groups from being involved in politics. At the same time students are pretty split on whether their personal religious beliefs impact how they vote.

“We realize how important religion is, for not just politics but everything we do, but we also want to be careful that it doesn’t get imposed,” Hartmann said.

Students also were polled on issues facing society.

Students were fairly split on abortion rulings, with more than half saying abortion should be fully banned or regulated.

Most students polled opposed the death penalty, with 54 percent opposing it and 36 percent favoring it.

Fifty-seven percent favored making it legal for doctors to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide. Thirty percent of students opposed it.

“They’re both about death, but I think they’re about different attitudes about death,” Hartmann said of the questions about the death penalty and physician-assisted suicide. “The one seems like vengeance and the other seems like compassion.”

Federico said the death penalty and assisted suicide typically are linked to the left-right political spectrum.

“Elites on the left or liberal side of the spectrum see the death penalty as being improperly applied, possibly racially biased and excessive,” he said. “They see assisted suicide as sort of a personal decision that fits in along with the right to other types of personal freedoms.”

On the topic of marriage rights, 68 percent of University students surveyed favored allowing homosexuals to marry legally.

“There really is a big age difference in how people view this. It does seem to me that young people in general are

far more likely to just sort of say it doesn’t matter as long as people are committed,” said Joe Gerteis, an assistant sociology professor. “They’re far more accepting than older folks.”

Finally, students generally were apathetic when it came to the United States’ support of Israelis over Palestinians. Although 33 percent of students opposed the support while 20 percent supported it, 47 percent of students reported no opinion on the issue.

“Those are the students that haven’t been following things closely,” Gerteis said. “A lot of students probably just don’t even feel qualified to give an answer because they don’t know.”