Americans, by and large, support religious freedom — for Christians and Jews, that is. But when it comes to Muslim religious freedom, they’re considerably less enthusiastic, according to a new poll.
As the Christian Science Monitor reports, a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC (National Opinion Research Center) Center for Public Affairs Research reveals starkly different attitudes among Americans when it comes to protecting the religious freedoms of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religious groups.
Eighty-two percent of Americans say it’s “very important” or “extremely important” for the religious freedom of Christians to be protected, 72 percent say the same for Jews, and 62 percent believe Muslim religious freedom is important. Sixty-three percent believe it’s important to protect the religious freedom of people who practice no religion.
Only 55 percent of Americans say the government is doing a “somewhat good” or “very good” job of protecting religious freedom.
Christian Science Monitor writer Stacy Teicher Khadaroo opines that the difference of opinion among Americans when it comes to the religious freedom of Muslims and Jews versus Christians demonstrates that America has not always lived up to the ideals of the First Amendment to the Constitution – that is, that the government can neither endorse a religion nor prohibit people from exercising it.
Further, says Khadaroo, the poll raises concerns about how long religious liberty can survive in American when four in 10 Americans don’t believe religious liberty is important at all.
Madihha Ahussain, an attorney for Muslim Advocates, a California-based civil rights group, believes the timing of the poll may have influenced the results. The poll was conducted December 10 through 13, barely a month after Islamist terrorists killed 130 people in Paris and just a couple of weeks after Islamist terrorists killed 14 people in San Bernardino.
“These numbers seem to be part of a growing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. This climate of hatred has contributed to dozens of incidents of anti-Muslim violence in recent weeks.”
Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has, indeed, been higher in the past few months than it was even after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, according to a December 12 report in the Guardian. Several offenses against Muslims have taken place since Paris, ranging from the subtle (such as a Georgia teacher asking a 13-year-old Muslim girl if she had a bomb in her backpack) to the felonious (such as two Muslim women in Florida being shot at and run off the road).
However, Douglas Laycock, a scholar of religious liberty at the University of Virginia School of Law, says that American history has shown over the centuries that the Christian majority in America is interested in protecting its own liberties but not for other minority religious groups.
“‘Liberty for me but not for thee’ is a very longstanding and widespread fallacy. The Puritans came to America for religious liberty, but immediately decided that they meant religious liberty only for themselves… There were huge fights between Catholics and Protestants in the nineteenth century, and outright persecution of Mormons. Now Jews are clearly inside the circle of religious liberty, and Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and nonbelievers are on the perimeter, protected in law but not so much in public opinion.”
Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in remarks via the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, cautions that restricting the liberty of others – Muslims or other religious minorities – can lead to your own religious liberty being restricted.
“If somebody else’s religion is being limited by the government, yours is liable to be limited in the same way. Even if you only care about your own particular group, you should care about other groups, too, because that’s the way the law works.”
Do you believe the government is doing enough (or too much) to protect the religious liberty of Muslims? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
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