September 9, 2009

Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination

Views of Religious Similarities and Differences

When asked how much various religions resemble their own, the public cites Protestantism and Catholicism as the faiths most like theirs. Overall, more than four-in-ten non- Protestants in the survey (44%) say that the Protestant religion and their own faith are similar (including 12% saying they are very similar), slightly more than say Protestantism and their own faith are somewhat or very different (38%). Of non-Catholics, 43% see mostly similarities between Catholicism and their own faith, while roughly half (49%) see mostly differences. More than one-third of non-Jews say Judaism is somewhat or very similar to their own faith (35%), while 47% say it is somewhat or very different.

By comparison, the public is even more likely to see differences rather than similarities between their own religion and Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. In fact, majorities say that each of these faiths is different from their own religion, with sizeable numbers saying that these religions are very different from their own (37% say this about Mormonism, 40% about Hinduism, 44% about Buddhism and 45% about Islam).

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Protestants see Catholicism as the religion most like their own, followed by Judaism. Among Protestants in the survey, white evangelicals (49%) and white mainline Protestants (50%) are somewhat more likely than black Protestants (39%) to see their religion as similar to Catholicism. But all three groups have roughly the same impression of Judaism’s similarity with their own faith (39% similar among white evangelicals, 34% among both white mainline Protestants and black Protestants). Fewer Protestants see Mormonism (22%), Islam (15%), Hinduism (9%) or Buddhism (7%) as similar to their own faith.

Catholics, especially white, non-Hispanic Catholics, name Protestantism as the faith that is most similar to Catholicism. Interestingly, Catholics see greater similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism than do Protestants. After Protestantism, Catholics see Judaism as most like their faith. Indeed, Catholics are slightly more likely than Protestants to say their faith is similar to Judaism. Less than a quarter of Catholics (22%) see Mormonism as similar to their religion, 19% see Islam as similar, 16% see Buddhism as similar, and 12% see Hinduism as similar.

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viewsonmuslim-3 Compared with other groups, fewer of the religiously unaffiliated see their own beliefs as similar to Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. However, the religiously unaffiliated are more likely than any other group in the survey to see their own beliefs as similar to Buddhism (26%).

Analysis of the survey reveals that perceptions of similarity with religious groups are linked with more favorable views of these groups. For instance, non-Catholics who see mostly similarities between their own faith and Catholicism are much more likely than those who see mostly differences to view Catholicism favorably (76% vs. 54%). And two-thirds of those who see mostly similarities between their own faith and Islam have a favorable view of Muslims (65%), compared with fewer than half of those who see mostly differences with Islam (37%).

Discrimination and Religious Minorities

Americans are more likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims than against any other religious group asked about in the survey. Most people say there is not a lot of discrimination against Jews, atheists, Mormons and evangelical Christians in the U.S., while nearly six-in-ten (58%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims.

The only group that Americans perceive as subject to more discrimination than Muslims is homosexuals; nearly twothirds of adults (64%) say gays and lesbians face a lot of discrimination. About half say blacks (49%) and Hispanics (52%) suffer from a lot of discrimination, and more than a third (37%) say there is a lot of discrimination against women in the U.S. today.

Young people (ages 18-29) are especially likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims, with nearly three-quarters (73%) expressing this view. Among those older than age 65, by contrast, only 45% say that Muslims face a lot of discrimination.

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Across the political spectrum, most people agree that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims. But this perception is most common among liberal Democrats, with eight-in-ten saying there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims. This is significantly higher than among all other partisan and ideological groups.

There are only minor differences of opinion between members of the major religious traditions on this question. Black Protestants are most likely to say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims (65%), but majorities of all religious groups say Muslims face a lot of discrimination.

Few Feel Like Part of a Religious Minority

viewsonmuslim-6  When asked about their own religious status, one-in-five Americans (19%) say they think of themselves as belonging to a minority because of their religious beliefs while 78% do not, numbers that are unchanged since early 2001. Though white evangelicals constitute the single largest religious group in the country, roughly a quarter (24%) identify themselves as part of a religious minority, much more than the 11% of white mainline Protestants and 13% of Catholics who do so. In this regard, evangelicals resemble black Protestants, among whom 22% regard themselves as part of a religious minority. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 18% see themselves as part of a religious minority, a figure significantly higher than among mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

Frequent attendance at religious services is associated with a higher tendency to feel like part of a religious minority. Overall, one-quarter of those who attend religious services at least once a week say they are a minority because of their beliefs, compared with 16% of those who attend less often. And among white evangelicals, nearly three-in-ten regular churchgoers (29%) see themselves as part of a religious minority. Likewise, 23% of those who say religion is very important in their lives think of themselves as minorities, compared with 14% of those who say religion is less important in their lives.

Politically, those in the middle of the ideological spectrum are less likely to consider themselves part of a religious minority. Just 13% of moderates identify as religious minorities, compared with 22% of conservatives and 21% of liberals.