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More Latinos view religion, politics as intertwined, poll says

DENVER -- US Hispanics view religious and political life as intertwined, often worship in ethnic congregations, and embrace a spirit-filled, charismatic style of Christianity, a new survey says.

The trends cross Roman Catholic and Protestant lines and signal significant shifts in the US religious landscape, considering the explosive growth of the Hispanic population, according to the survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center.

When it comes to political loyalties, religion trumps ethnicity: Hispanic Catholics, who make up two-thirds of the Hispanic population, are solidly Democratic. But born-again or evangelical Hispanics, at 15 percent of the Hispanic population and rising, favor Republicans, though by a much narrower margin.

The bilingual survey involved 4,600 interviews from August to October last year and is billed as one the most detailed looks ever at Hispanics and US public life. It has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The survey also indicated that 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatic, compared with about 12 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics.

Though definitions differ, charismatics generally emphasize an intense personal experience with God and believe the Holy Spirit can work through speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said this brand of Christianity, mostly associated with evangelicals, attracts Catholics who don't feel a strong connection with God through the traditional Mass.

Lugo said Catholic leaders will be challenged to incorporate clapping, shouting, and even speaking in tongues into worship, a potential point of conflict in an institution based on tradition. Those issues will be brought into relief next month when Pope Benedict XVI visits Brazil, the world's most populous Catholic country, where Pentecostals are making inroads.

The survey indicated that Hispanics see religion as a moral compass to guide their political thinking and expect the same of politicians. Most Hispanics believe social and political issues should be addressed from the pulpit, the survey suggested .

The racial split over that question at times was stark: About 54 percent of white Catholics believe churches should stay out of politics, compared with 36 percent of Hispanic Catholics, according to the survey.