Muslims and atheists in the United States are more likely than those of Christian faiths to experience religious discrimination, according to new research led by the University of Washington.
In the study, which focused on public schools because they are government-run, community-facing institutions, the researchers tested responses to an individual’s expression of religious belief. In addition to finding greater bias against religious minorities, the researchers also saw that ardent expressions of faith, regardless of religious tradition, were more prone to discrimination.
“The U.S. is becoming a much more culturally diverse society than in the past, and the rate of change is happening very swiftly. So we wanted to ask: How are our public institutions keeping up? Can they provide equal accommodations and protection under the law?” said Steve Pfaff, a University of Washington professor of sociology and lead author of the study, which published Aug. 30 in Public Administration Review.
Religious bias may be a very serious problem, but it has been studied less than other types of discrimination, such as race- or gender-based discrimination, Pfaff added.
“Schools bear this enormous responsibility and perform this important service, and one thing that’s changing quickly, among the population, is religion. So how are schools handling all that change?” he said.
Pfaff points to national statistics that reflect the change: The percentage of Americans who identify as “unchurched” has increased from 16% to 23% in the past decade; the percentage of Americans who identify as Muslim, while small, is expected to double to 2%, by 2050.