WASHINGTON — 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 percent said religious liberty protections were important for Christians, compared with 61 percent who said the same for Muslims. About seven in 10 said preserving Jews’ religious freedom was important, while 67 percent 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 through Dec. 13, after Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, 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 past month.
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