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Pew looks at perceptions of discrimination against people of faith

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By Patricia Zapor Catholic News Service 

WASHINGTON — People of various religious groups tend to think followers of their faith are more apt to face discrimination than the general public thinks, but majorities of all backgrounds agree that Muslims, gays/lesbians, blacks and Hispanics face discrimination.

According to a Pew Research Center report released Sept. 22, 19 percent of the general public said there is a lot of discrimination against Catholics, while 33 percent of Catholics hold that view, for example.

Similarly, among the whole survey of 2,002 adults, 31 percent said evangelical Christians face a lot of discrimination, while 50 percent of evangelicals said they are on the receiving end of discrimination.

The telephone poll conducted in early September asked about attitudes toward religion in public life, including questions about the role of religion in politics and discrimination based on various factors.

Sixty-five percent of the whole survey said gays and lesbians are subject to a lot of discrimination, 59 percent said Muslims are, 54 percent said blacks are, and 50 percent said Hispanics are. No other segment in the questionnaire was thought by a majority of those surveyed to be subject to a lot of discrimination.

The poll also asked whether people think it’s now more difficult to practice one’s faith. About a third of Catholics think they face discrimination, but vast majorities of the faith say it has not become more difficult to be a practicing Catholic. Nor do Catholics think of themselves as a minority because of their faith.

On the latter point, 86 percent of Catholics don’t think their faith puts them in the minority. Of the whole sample of Americans surveyed, 78 percent said they don’t think of themselves as a minority.

About 31 percent of people who are unaffiliated with a particular religion — identified in the social survey world as “nones” — told the survey team that it has become easier to be a person with no religion, while 60 percent said it hasn’t changed much.

Just under three quarters of Catholics, 73 percent, said the ease or difficulty of being a Catholic hasn’t changed much recently, the report said.

Evangelicals are both more likely than other Protestants or Catholics to think of themselves as a minority — though only 30 percent do so — and more likely to say it is more difficult to be an evangelical Christian, at 34 percent.

Among other details about the responses to questions about discrimination, majorities of every sub-group in the survey said gays and lesbians face a lot of discrimination. When asked the same question about Muslims, a majority of all subgroups except white evangelicals said they are subject to a lot of discrimination.

The greatest discrepancy between what the overall survey said about discrimination faced by various groups and what members of those same groups perceive for themselves came among blacks. Overall, 54 percent said blacks face discrimination, while 82 percent of blacks said so.

In other questions, the poll found a trend continues of a majority of people thinking the influence of religion on public life is waning. Now 72 percent said the influence of religion is on the decline, compared to 67 percent who said so in a similar poll four years ago.

The percentage of people who think churches should express views on political and social issues also increased since 2010, up to 49 percent from 43 percent.

The survey found a similar increase in the number of people who said there is “too little” voicing of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, though that view is still a minority opinion, expressed by 41 percent, up from 37 percent four years ago.

Thirty-two percent said churches should endorse candidates for political office, while 67 percent said they should not. In 2010, 70 percent said churches should not endorse candidates, while 24 percent said they should.

The views that churches should be vocal about political issues and endorse candidates were held more strongly among people who are affiliated with a faith (54 percent and 35 percent respectively) than by “nones,” (32 percent and 23 percent respectively) and more strongly by Republicans than Democrats.

Thirty eight percent of Republicans said churches should endorse candidates and 59 percent said churches should express political opinions. Among Democrats, 28 percent said churches should endorse candidates and 42 percent said they should express political views.

The results had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for the entire survey sample. For the subgroups, the margin of error varied with the number of people queried, such as: from plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for all Catholics and plus or minus 11.4 points for Hispanic Catholics.

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