As President Obama seeks to ramp up military action against the terrorist group known as ISIS, Americans remain uneasy over the place of Islam in the United States and in the world.
More than a third (37 percent) say they are worried about Sharia law—an Islamic legal and moral code—being applied in America.
One in 4 (27 percent) believe the terrorist group ISIS reflects the true nature of Islam, while 4 in 10 (43 percent) believe Islam can create a peaceful society.
And most Protestant senior pastors (76 percent) say they support military action against ISIS.
Those are among the results of two surveys of 1,000 Americans each, along with a survey of 1,000 senior pastors of Protestant churches, from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
"ISIS has stirred an odd religious debate in America today," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. "In a nation that has long espoused religious freedom, Americans are thinking long and hard about the kind of society Islam fosters—especially the more radical groups that say they are Islamic—and whether Sharia law would ever be adopted here."
A terrorist attack on a satirical magazine in Paris last month and the rise of ISIS have renewed concerns over extremist versions of Islam. In particular, ISIS is known for its brutality. Its fighters executed a number of prisoners over the past year, most recently a pilot from Jordan and a Japanese journalist. A young American aid worker also died recently after being kidnapped by ISIS.
And the group has terrorized civilians in large swaths of Syria and northern Iraq.
Since last year, the U.S. military has helped conduct air strikes against ISIS. President Obama and other U.S. leaders have argued the group—also know as ISIL—is a terrorist organization, not a religious group.
"Now let's make two things clear," the president said in a Sept. 10, 2014 address to the nation. "ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim."
Few Americans accept that view.
About half (48 percent) disagree with the statement, "ISIS is not Islamic." About 1 in 4 (22 percent) agree, while 3 in 10 are not sure.
But few Americans believe ISIS reflects what a society shaped by Islam looks like.
About a quarter (27 percent) agree with the statement, "ISIS is a true indication of what Islam looks like when Islam controls a society." Close to half (47 percent) disagree, and a quarter (26 percent) are not sure.
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