Freedom of religion seems to depend on what religion you practice. Religious freedom must be protected for Christians – for Muslims, not so much, according to a new poll. While 8 in 10 surveyed Americans felt it’s critical to protect the religious rights of Christians, that number dipped to only 6 out of 10 when the same question was posed as to the importance of defending religious rights of Muslims.
Reports the Christian Science Monitor on Dec. 30: “The gaps in part reflect the fact that the United States has always struggled to live up to the ideals in its Constitution. But they also raise the question of whether the relative success of America’s experiment with religious diversity can survive for future generations when 4 out of 10 don’t believe strongly in protecting the rights of all.”
The poll, conducted last month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, showed that 82 percent of Americans think the freedom of Christians to practice their religion freely must continue to be upheld, but only 61 percent said the same for practicing Muslims. The poll was conducted online and by phone with 1,042 adults across the U.S.
The poll numbers are likely influenced by the recent spate of terror attacks carried out by Islamic extremists. In November, suicide bombings and mass shootings in Paris by ISIS terrorists claimed the lives of 130 people and wounded nearly 370 more. In early December, an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent and a Pakistani-born lawful permanent U.S. resident, both of whom expressed ties to jihadism, killed 14 and injured 22 in San Bernardino, California.
“On one hand, it’s heartening that a majority of American people understand that religious liberty is for everyone, but the goal is to have enough in support of this arrangement that it actually works,” comments Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute in Washington. “If we lose our hearts and minds… on religious liberty, we lose what’s enabled us to live with these differences.”
The different opinions also came down to political parties. More Republicans than Democrats said protecting the liberty of Christians was important, but the opposite was true for protecting the rights of Muslims to freely worship.
“In the survey, 88 percent of Republicans said it was important to protect the religious liberty of Christians, while only 60 percent said so for Muslims,” noted the Associated Press. “Democrats also ranked religious freedom for Muslims as a lower priority. Eighty-three percent of Democrats said the protections were important for Christians, while only 67 percent said so for Muslims.”
“Religious freedom is now in the eye of the beholder… People in different traditions, with different ideological commitments, define religious freedom differently,” said Haynes.
President Barack Obama, in his holiday message, spoke about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
“In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL,” stated President Obama. “We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations.”