American voters say overwhelmingly that it is important to them that their president have strong religious beliefs but they are increasingly tolerant as to the spectrum of beliefs that may be acceptable, according to a new public opinion poll.
More than half of those polled in the study by the private, nonsectarian Williamsburg Charter Foundation opposed a requirement that Judeo-Christian values be emphasized in public schools.
But 59 percent agreed that it was "good for sporting events at public high schools to begin with a public prayer" and 77 percent think public schools should set aside a moment of silent prayer each day for students to pray if they want to.
Four out of five of the 3,017 Americans canvassed said it is "OK for a city government to put up a manger scene on government property." Nearly the same percentage would afford the same privilege to a Jewish menorah.
Some findings of the poll are highly pertinent to the current presidential election campaign.
While 70 percent said that "strong religious beliefs" are important presidential qualifications, 8 percent said they would not vote for a Catholic and 10 percent would not vote for a Jew.
Being Greek Orthodox or "born-again Baptist" would automatically cost a candidate the votes of 13 percent. Of all the religious categories, only "born-again Baptist" has shown an increase in hostility -- up from 3 percent in 1958.
Antipathy towards Catholics has dropped from 25 percent and for Jews from 28 percent, according to a 1958 Gallup poll.
Americans look for traditional moral values in their political leaders. Two-thirds would not vote for a homosexual, and 43 percent would rule out a married candidate who "has been having other love affairs."
Three out of five said they would not vote for an avowed atheist for president; 21 percent said they would be unwilling to vote for a candidate who has been "a minister of a church."
More than two-thirds said religious groups "should have a legal right to get involved in politics" and 64 percent think it proper for religious leaders to endorse candidates.
Fifty-six percent think it "OK for the Right to Life movment to use religion in the debate about abortion"; 61 percent approve Jewish groups giving money to politicians to support Israel; but only 44 percent approve of religious groups trying to influence U.S. policy toward South Africa.
Nearly half thought churches should "pay taxes on all their property" and 29 percent would deny tax exemption to churches that do not ordain women.
Two out of five approved of government aid to church-run schools.
Other findings of the study:One in four, 26 percent, professed familiarity with the term "secular humanism," a favorite whipping boy of the religious right. 13 percent said "there is no place in America for the Moslem religion." 24 percent agreed with the statement that "Followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon should not be allowed to print a daily newspaper in Washington, D.C." 65 percent said "it should be against the law for unusual religious cults to try to convert teen-agers." 40 percent want laws to bar TV preachers from raising money on the air. 57 percent want a law barring "groups like Hare Krishna" from soliciting at airports. 54 percent want to outlaw devil worship.