O'Reilly, Morris falsely painted Schiavo case as battle between religious, secular Americans

On the March 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and Fox News political analyst Dick Morris mischaracterized the controversy surrounding the Terri Schiavo case, claiming that public opinion is divided between the secular and religious. In doing so, they continued to push a conservative theme that has been debunked by public opinion polls showing broad support across religious lines for the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube and against congressional intervention in the case.

O'Reilly began his interview with evangelist the Rev. Robert Schuller by saying, “I see this as a continuation of the very intense culture war in this country between secular progressives and faith-based Christian and Judeo -- let's say philosophers and those who embrace the philosophy.” O'Reilly introduced his next segment, a supposed counterpoint with Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (Norton, August 2004), by similarly framing the debate:

O'REILLY: “Unresolved Problem” segment tonight -- the battle over Terri Schiavo's life came down pretty much along secular-religious lines. Roman Catholics and other right-to-life-based religions generally wanted Ms. Schiavo to live. And the ACLU and many of the secular organizations saw no reason to prolong the woman's life.

Morris, a former adviser to President Clinton, later echoed O'Reilly's argument, asserting that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) wanted to avoid addressing the issue for fear of angering religious voters:

MORRIS: Hillary is trying to move to the center, so even though this is an issue that favors the left at this point, she doesn't want to talk about it because she doesn't want to jam her movements to center. She's been listening to your show, I'll bet, Bill, and she sees it's a secular-religious divide and she doesn't want to be on the secular side of it, even though the poll numbers on this particular issue --

In fact, public polls show that popular opinion in the Schiavo case does not divide along religious versus secular lines at all. As Media Matters for America has previously noted, a March 21-22 CBS News poll showed that “among evangelicals, 68 percent felt that the president and Congress should stay out of the matter.”

A March 20 ABC News poll indicated that those who self-identified as religious were divided on the issue, with many agreeing with secular respondents. According to ABC's Gary Langer, "[e]vangelical Protestants divide about evenly -- 46 percent are in favor of removing the tube, 44 percent opposed." Langer also noted that among mainline Protestants, 77 percent support removing Schiavo's feeding tube.

The ABC poll also challenged O'Reilly's assertion that “Roman Catholics ... generally wanted Ms. Schiavo to live,” showing that 63 percent of self-identified Catholics support removing the feeding tube, with 26 percent opposed.