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Poll: Americans Are Tolerant
of Other Faiths--Except Islam
BY LAUREN MARKOE ©2011 Religion News Service
mericans consider religious freedom a cornerstone of society, but fall short in their tolerance of Muslims, according to a poll released September 6 that probes Americans' attitudes toward immigrants and the nation's safety 10 years after 9/11.
The "What It Means to Be American" poll found that a small majority (53 percent) say the country is safer now than before the 9/11 attacks. Attitudes toward Muslims, however, are far less straightforward.
More than 8 in 10 Americans say that self-proclaimed Christians who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christians. By contrast, less than half (48 percent) say that self-proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslims.
"Interestingly, we find that Americans basically have a double standard when it comes to evaluating religious violence," said Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute, which produced the survey with the Brookings Institution.
On the same question, disparities arose among political and religious groups. Republicans (55 percent) were more likely to call the perpetrator of a violent crime in the name of Islam a Muslim than were Democrats (40 percent). At 57 percent, white evangelicals were far more likely to consider the perpetrator a Muslim than were Catholics (39 percent) or black Protestants (36 percent).
In general, the survey of 2,450 adults paints Americans' attitudes toward Muslims as a complex picture of acceptance and wariness.
Nearly nine in 10 Americans agree that "America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular." And by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans reject the idea that Muslims want to establish Islamic law, or Shariah, in the United States.
But they are divided as to whether Islam is at odds with American values, with 47 percent agreeing and 48 percent disagreeing.
The poll's authors likened this ambivalence about American Muslims to the evolution of attitudes toward Catholics, who were once widely suspected for their loyalty to the pope, and Mormons, once widely reviled for their religious practices.
Brookings scholar William A. Galston said Muslims are now testing the nation's tolerance, particularly as they try to build mosques.
"The siting of Muslim houses of worship has become the object of great controversy, which really goes right at the heart of religious free exercise," he said.
The survey also notes differing attitudes toward Muslims between generations, with more than 6 in 10 young Americans (ages 18 to 29) reporting comfort with several expressions of Muslim religious practice, compared to fewer than 4 in 10 senior citizens.