Gene Expression

Religious intolerance in the USA

How deep do the seams of tolerance run in this country? Sometimes you wonder…ultimately, I’m pessimistic about the human love of liberty. I tend to agree with Matt McIntosh that to some extent American defense of individual freedoms is based on custom & tradition rather than reasoned acceptance of core principles. In any case I had a book on my shelf which I just had some spare time to open today, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity, and I saw this table:

  Spiritual Shoppers (%) Christian Inclusivists(%) Christian Exclusivists(%) All Respondents (%)
Percentage who said they favored:
Making it illegal for Muslim groups to meet in the United States 15 27 27 23
Making it illegal for Hindu groups to meet in the United States 12 25 24 20
Making it illegal for Buddhist groups to meet in the United States 12 24 23 20
N (897) (677) (1,006) (2,910)

Of course, the standard caveat applies that many respondents are probably too dumb to understand the questions.


  1. #1 Matt McIntosh
    April 21, 2006

    “The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely.”
    — H.L. Mencken

    Okay, so I’m not quite that pessimistic. But I agree with DDF that “people in general are rationally conservative … they trust the institutions they are familiar with to function the way those institutions can be seen functioning.” Without salient focal points (e.g. the first amendment) to act as guideposts, people tend to regress toward the default position of savage apes.

  2. #2 razib
    April 21, 2006

    savage apes.

    please don’t insult apes by analogy 🙂

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    April 21, 2006

    actually, i’m surprised they didn’t try to restrict athiests from holding meetings 🙂

  4. #4 Dan Dare
    April 21, 2006

    What about Shinto?
    Surely that wouldn’t offend anyone.
    The Kanamara Festival is world-famous.

  5. #5 razib
    April 21, 2006

    joe, they didn’t ask the question because the book explores interrelgious dynamics. i’m sure the % would be even higher.

    (note, if you asked people if they supported religious freedom they’d probably be 95% in favor, this is a case where this 25% is just dumber than normal and hyper-unintegrated in the principles they espouse)

  6. #6 SkookumPlanet
    April 21, 2006

    One of my earliest political lessons from my dad. “When you ask people if they favor freedom of speech, 95% say yes. If you ask them if communists or Nazis should be allowed to speak publically in their community, about the same number say no.”

    While I agree with the overall point, I also agree with the last sentence. When the NSF does its annual science literacy polling, 20% is roughly the number who think the sun revolves around the earth.

  7. #7 Jason Malloy
    April 21, 2006

    Is this data from the GSS? I’d like to know the atheist %.

  8. #8 IndianCowboy
    April 24, 2006

    why did we (hindus and buddhists) even come up? Islam has far more in common with christianity than it does with my religion…

  9. #9 razib
    April 24, 2006

    why did we (hindus and buddhists) even come up? Islam has far more in common with christianity than it does with my religion…

    if you are thinking in the sense of phenetics where you do a “character by character” comparison, or in a cladist sense in regards to “shared derived traits,” sure. but most people don’t know much about islam (especially the intolerant types) and so put it in the same box as the “idolaters.” the people who can’t distinguish between muslims and hindus probably don’t consider catholics christian.

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