U.S. Chris­tians, more than Mus­lims need re­li­gious lib­erty pro­tec­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - RELIGION - BY RACHEL ZOLL AND EMILY SWAN­SON THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Amer­i­cans place a higher pri­or­ity on pre­serv­ing the re­li­gious free­dom of Chris­tians than for other faith groups, rank­ing Mus­lims as the least de­serv­ing of the pro­tec­tions, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey.

Solid ma­jori­ties said it was ex­tremely or very im­por­tant for the U.S. to up­hold re­li­gious free­dom in gen­eral. How­ever, the per­cent­ages var­ied dra­mat­i­cally when re­spon­dents were asked about spe­cific faith tra­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to a poll by The As­so­ci­ated Press and the NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search.

Eighty-two per cent said re­li­gious lib­erty pro­tec­tions were im­por­tant for Chris­tians, com­pared with 61 per cent who said the same for Mus­lims. About seven in 10 said pre­serv­ing Jews’ re­li­gious free­dom was im­por­tant, while 67 per cent said so of Mor­mons. Peo­ple who iden­ti­fied with no re­li­gion were ranked about even with Mus­lims in need­ing sup­port to live out their be­liefs.

Charles Haynes, di­rec­tor of the Re­li­gious Free­dom Cen­ter of the New­seum In­sti­tute, said the find­ings re­flect deep di­vi­sions among Amer­i­cans about the very def­i­ni­tion of re­li­gious lib­erty, which has taken on newly politi­cized mean­ings in a time of de­bate over gay mar­riage and the threat from Is­lamic ex­trem­ists.

“Re­li­gious free­dom is now in the eye of the be­holder,” Haynes said. “Peo­ple in dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions, with dif­fer­ent ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ments, de­fine re­li­gious free­dom dif­fer­ently.”

The poll was con­ducted Dec. 10-13, af­ter Is­lamic ex­trem­ist at­tacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and dur­ing in­ten­si­fy­ing anti-Mus­lim rhetoric by Don­ald Trump and other can­di­dates for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. The furor has led to a spike in van­dal­ism of mosques and ha­rass­ment of U.S. Mus­lims over the last month.

In the sur­vey, 88 per cent of Repub­li­cans said it was im­por­tant to pro­tect the re­li­gious lib­erty of Chris­tians, while only 60 per cent said so for Mus­lims. Democrats also ranked re­li­gious free­dom for Mus­lims as a lower pri­or­ity. Eighty-three per cent of Democrats said the pro­tec­tions were im­por­tant for Chris­tians, while only 67 per cent said so for Mus­lims.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey last year found an in­creas­ing share of Amer­i­cans be­lieve Is­lam is more likely than other re­li­gions to en­cour­age violence among its fol­low­ers. Sev­eral out­spo­ken crit­ics have emerged who ar­gue Is­lam it­self is a threat to the U.S.

“Th­ese num­bers seem to be part of a grow­ing cli­mate of an­tiMus­lim sen­ti­ment in the United States,” said Madi­hha Ahus­sain, an at­tor­ney for Mus­lim Ad­vo­cates, a Cal­i­for­nia-based civil rights group. “This cli­mate of ha­tred has con­trib­uted to dozens of in­ci­dents of anti-Mus­lim violence in re­cent weeks.”

He­len Decker, 65, a West Texas Chris­tian who reads the Bible reg­u­larly, be­lieves strongly that re­li­gious free­dom should be pro­vided to peo­ple of all faiths or no faith, in­clud­ing for her grand­son whom she said is an athe­ist.

But she said Mus­lims can only earn the same re­li­gious lib­erty pro­tec­tions “un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances - that they can show that they are not a rad­i­cal Mus­lim.”

“Mus­lims - they need to be pro­tected just like Chris­tians, un­less they pose harm to hu­man life,” Decker said.

But John Ash­ford of Chicago, who is re­tired from the U.S. mil­i­tary and the Postal Ser­vice, said “it’s not right” to deny re­li­gious lib­erty pro­tec­tions to Mus­lims. He said of­fi­cials have been show­ing too much def­er­ence to Chris­tians for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, in what he con­sid­ers a threat to the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

“There’s sup­posed to be equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law - that’s what the Con­sti­tu­tion says,” he said. “If you’re not do­ing that, you’re do­ing some­thing wrong.”

Pub­lic dis­cus­sion about re­li­gious free­dom in 2015 fo­cused largely on de­mands for gov­ern­ment ac­com­mo­da­tion for ob­jec­tors to same-sex mar­riage, which be­came le­gal na­tion­wide in June. The de­bate played out most dra­mat­i­cally in the con­flict over In­di­ana’s Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act and in the case of Ken­tucky clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for re­fus­ing to is­sue mar­riage li­censes to same-sex cou­ples.

Those who op­pose steps to ac­com­mo­date re­li­gious ob­jec­tions to same-sex mar­riage see such ex­emp­tions as an at­tempt to un­der­mine newly won rights for gays and les­bians.

But ad­vo­cates for broad ex­emp­tions, in­clud­ing U.S. Ro­man Catholic bish­ops and Southern Bap­tist lead­ers, say the re­quests are in line with the long­stand­ing Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of pro­tect­ing in­di­vid­ual con­science.

In the lat­est sur­vey, eight in 10 Amer­i­cans said it was very or ex­tremely im­por­tant for peo­ple like them­selves to be al­lowed to prac­tise their re­li­gion freely.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,042 adults was con­ducted on­line and by phone us­ing a sam­ple drawn from NORC’s prob­a­bil­ity-based Ameri-Speak panel, which is de­signed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror for all re­spon­dents is plus or mi­nus 3.9 per­cent­age points.

AP PHOTO

In this photo taken Dec. 4, peo­ple ar­rive for Fri­day prayers at Dar al-Hi­jrah Mosque in Falls Church, Va. Amer­i­cans place a higher pri­or­ity on pre­serv­ing the re­li­gious free­dom of Chris­tians than other faith groups, rank­ing Mus­lims as the least de­serv­ing of the pro­tec­tions, ac­cord­ing to a new poll from The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search.

AP PHOTO

In this Dec. 19 file photo, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump speaks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Amer­i­cans place a higher pri­or­ity on pre­serv­ing the re­li­gious free­dom of Chris­tians than other faith groups, ac­cord­ing to a new poll from The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search.

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