In the past seven decades, Americans have made impressive gains in overcoming bigotry on the basis of most religious beliefs, sex, and race. However, they have lots of room for improvement in reducing bigotry in other areas.
In 1978, the most discriminated-against characteristic was homosexuality; only about one in four Americans would vote for a well-qualified homosexual. Gays and lesbians have made impressive gains in acceptance. Now, about three in four Americans would consider voting for one.
In 1978, the second most-discriminated against group were Atheists. Only four Americans in ten would vote for a well-qualified Atheist. In 1999, Atheists had made a slight gain; almost 60% would vote for one.
The data shown for 2007 was collected on three days, starting on February 9. A later survey, taken in December of the same year showed that the acceptance level for a Mormon president had risen from 72% to 80%. This increase was probably due to the presence of Mitt Romney as a Republican candidate for the presidency.
Barna Research 1995 poll on prejudice towards other religions:
Barna Research Ltd. is the most active conservative religious polling organization in the United States. They conduct telephone polls about a variety of topics -- mainly involving Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians. 1
George Barna, president of Barna Research commented:
Barna asked a random selection of American adults in 1995-JUL whether they thought that various religions had a positive or negative effect on U.S. society. 2 Many public opinion polls from that era showed that about 85% of Americans identify with the Christian religion. A later, ARIS poll involving tens of thousands of subjects has suggested that this value has dropped to about 77% by 2001 and 76% by 2008. The following data are thus primarily based on the responses of Christians. The margin of error is within 3 percentage points:
* These are the responses of those subjects who were familiar with the religion being considered. Thus, for Christianity, 6% of the subjects were unfamiliar with the religion and 94% of were familiar. Of the latter, 85% gave a positive assessment.
Unfortunately, the Barna news release is missing many pieces of data. The study apparently classified the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, as a non-Christian denomination. Conservative Christians frequently define Mormonism as a non-Christian cult -- perhaps bordering on Christian Gnosticism -- rather than as a Christian denomination. Barna Research apparently follows this practice.
American adults, whether Christian or non-Christian, apparently regard only Christianity and Judaism as having a positive influence on society. The remaining five religions are viewed by the average American as having a negative impact on society. These beliefs do not bode well for the future of religious tolerance and peace in the U.S. -- particularly in view of the rapid increase in religious diversity in the country.
Barna also compared the beliefs of those who go to church regularly with the unchurched:
Attending church obviously influences people to value Christianity more, and to hold a lower opinion of other religions. Surveys consistently show that about 40% of Americans say that they regularly attend religious services. But these numbers appear to be inflated. Groups who have actually gone to church parking lots and counted heads report that 20% is a closer estimate.
Prejudice against those of other religions becomes even more serious when born again Christians are compared to non-Christians:
We suspect that mainline and liberal Christians have opinions that are intermediate between the above two groups. The percentage of American adults who are "born-again" is about 35%. The percentage of non-Christians is about 15%.
The extremely low regard for Atheists may well be mainly based on two factors:
This topic continued in Part 2
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