05/19/2012 08:24 am ET

Queen Elizabeth II Should Remain Head Of Church Of England, According To Poll

By Al Webb
Religion News Service

LONDON (RNS) Nearly three-quarters of people in England believe Queen Elizabeth II should retain her position as titular head of the Church of England, according to an opinion poll commissioned by Britain's largest television and radio broadcaster.

The survey, conducted by the polling organization ComRes for the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), showed 73 percent favor her remaining as the church's "Supreme Governor" and "Defender of the Faith" -- titles held by the monarch since King Henry VIII broke with the pope and Roman Catholicism in the 16th century.

ComRes said it interviewed 2,591 adults in England by telephone between March 30 and April 15.

Despite the growing influence of other faiths, largely through immigration and including Muslims, Jews and Sikhs, the English remain steadfast in their support of Queen Elizabeth as head of the Church of England, which is considered the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The BBC poll was conducted to coincide with the queen's diamond jubilee celebrations, which are now well under way.

It showed that only one-fourth of those interviewed thought the queen and her successors should have no religious role or religious title of any sort -- a percentage that has held firm for the past several decades.

But should her son and heir apparent, Prince Charles, succeed his mother to the throne, about 50 percent would favor a change that he himself has suggested: that instead of Defender of the Faith, he wear the title of Defender of Faiths.

Earlier this year, at a multifaith reception she held at Lambeth Palace in London, Queen Elizabeth staunchly defended the Church of England itself, which she suggested was often misunderstood.

"Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of all other religions," she said, but "instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country."