Romin Iqbal, staff attorney at the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the findings are especially troubling in light of recent decisions by the city of Columbus declining to make accommodations for a Muslim police-officer candidate who asked to wear a head scarf with her uniform.
“The numbers were troubling,” Iqbal said of the survey. “Even when we have a non-significant percentage of Americans who believe it’s not important for them to uphold the religious liberties of Muslims, that’s something that is certainly concerning to us.”
Solid majorities of Americans said it was extremely or very important for the United States to uphold religious freedom in general; however, the percentages varied dramatically when respondents were asked about specific faith traditions, according to the poll released Wednesday 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 7 in 10 said preserving Jews’ religious freedom was important, while 67 percent said so of Mormons.
The poll was conducted Dec. 10 through Dec. 13, after Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and during intensifying anti-Muslim rhetoric by Donald Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls.
The poll results likely were driven by media reports of the attacks and the candidates’ Islamophobic comments, said Imran Malik, chairman of the board that oversees Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard, with a mosque of about 6,000 members.
“I think we probably need to have a reality check,” Malik said. “There are good and bad people in all faith traditions, and all cultural traditions.
“We cannot jeopardize an entire community because of the actions of the few.”
Malik said that the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state and guarantee of religious freedom have been factors in the country’s success, and will continue to be a factor in its future as well as its global image.
“We are supposed to be treating each and every citizen of this country based on humanity, not on faith traditions,” he said.
The Rev. Virginia Lohmann Bauman, senior pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ, said her Downtown congregation is among several Christian churches in central Ohio that have posted photos on Twitter with the #WeChooseWelcome tag in support of Muslims.
“As faithful Americans, our commitment must be to protect the religious liberty of all of our citizens — not just the liberty of those Americans who look just like us, talk just like us and worship just like us,” she said.
“Let’s not let those who have succumbed to fear and hate determine how we respond in these challenging times. ... I am proud of my church and of my fellow Columbus faith leaders for standing for love and justice in a political climate of xenophobia and blame.”
Iqbal said he is concerned that the city’s unwillingness to make a head-scarf accommodation for a police-officer candidate sends a message that “it is OK to be cavalier with religious rights."
He said that Trump’s comments have increased fear in the local Muslim community, and that his organization has received phone calls over the past month from people saying they have been harassed or verbally assaulted in public places.
Malik said he has also heard concerns from the Noor community about possible backlash. He said that with judicial, political and social protections, there is little chance that local Muslims will face the type of widespread discrimination seen in certain other countries.
“I think we have a social support system built in the community,” he said. “If it occurs, we can always confront it and defuse it with our collective efforts.”
The AP-NORC poll of 1,042 adults was conducted online and by phone. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this story. To see the survey results, go to www.apnorc.org.
©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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