Most Americans believe preserving the freedom of Christians is more important than providing it for other faith groups, especially Muslims who they say deserve the least protection, according to a new survey by The Associated Press and the NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research.
The majority of Americans think protecting religious liberty in general is extremely important in the United States, but when asked about a specific religion the results changed strikingly.
Eighty-two percent believe religious freedom protections are vital for Christians, while only 61 percent said the same for Muslims. People who have no religious belief received around the same percentage with Muslims, as about seven in 10 think preserving religious liberty for Jews’ are also important.
Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Centre of the Newseum Institute, said the results reveal deep divisions amongst Americans, amid debate over the threat from terror groups such as DAESH.
“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 of 1,042 adults was carried out in mid-December, amid Donald Trump’s and other Republicans’ anti-Muslim rhetoric, following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
The Paris attacks were claimed by DAESH terrorists, as the San Bernardino massacre was conducted by the terror group’s supporters. The incidents caused a rise in vandalism of mosques and harassment of US Muslims.
Eric Rassbach, a lawyer with a public interest law firm that accepts clients of all faiths, said "people may not realise you cannot have a system where there's one rule for one group and another rule for a different group you don't like."
"If somebody else's religion is being limited by the government, yours is liable to be limited in the same way. Even if you only care about your own particular group, you should care about other groups, too, because that's the way the law works." Rasbach added.