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Churchgoers More Likely To See Torture As Justifiable

A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey released last week found that those who attend weekly church services are more likely than those who rarely or never attend services to say the use of torture on suspected terrorists is justifiable.

Here's the analysis from Pew's Forum on Religion & Public Life. The poll found that fifty-four percent of those who attend weekly services say the use of torture on terror suspects in order to gain important information can "often" or "sometimes" be justified. That's twelve percent higher than the 42 percent of those who seldom or never attend such services who say the same.

It's important to note that the percentage who says the use of torture can never be justified is roughly the same in both groups, about one in four. See the graphic above.

The poll also suggests that those who are religious are more likely to say the use of torture can be justified than those who are not religious. While roughly one in two Americans say the use of torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified, a smaller percentage of those who are unaffiliated – 40 percent – say the same. Unaffiliated, for Pew's purposes, are those who call themselves atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular.

White evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, are more likely than the general population to say the use of torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified - sixty-two percent say so. The figures for white non-Hispanic Catholics and white mainline Protestants (groups like Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians) are closer to the general population: Fifty-one percent of the former and 46 percent of the latter say torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified. (Breakdowns of other groups were not offered because the sample size was too small.)

The Boston Globe, which flagged the finding yesterday, notes Andrew Sullivan's response: "So Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country."

Hot Air, meanwhile, argues that "the results probably indicate political correlation more so than religious influence."

"Evangelicals are more likely to be conservative and conservatives are more likely to support coercive interrogation, ergo evangelicals are more likely to support coercive interrogation; atheists are more likely to be liberal and therefore less likely to support it," writes blogger Allahpundit.

David Neff at Christianity Today – whose analysis was also noted by the Globe – points out that other studies have found similar results. (Last year, a Pew study found that 58 percent of white southern evangelicals believe torturing suspected terrorists can be justified at least some of the time.)

He also notes the differences between the beliefs of the rank-and-file and religious leaders on the issue, pointing out that "key leaders of most evangelical denominations and parachurch organizations have gone on the record against the use of torture."

A CBS News/New York Times poll released last week found that 71 percent of Americans believe that the use of waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques constitutes torture. Such techniques, deployed during the Bush administration, have been halted by President Obama.

The CBS News/NY Times survey also found that while 37 percent of Americans think waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques are sometimes justified, 46 percent think these techniques are never justified.