Winning Proposal to the Converse-Miller Scholar's Fund: 2017 Competition

Project Title: The Limits of Religious Tolerance: Identity, Principle, and Pragmatism in Judgments of Religious Discrimination

Faculty Sponsor: Ted Brader

Graduate Student: Carly Wayne

Project Description

Religious tensions in the United States have reached a crescendo in recent months. President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations sparked outrage among a large segment of Americans. However, this ban was also supported by nearly 48% of the American public. At the same time, a recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish Community Centers has brought attention to a resurgence of anti-Semitism in America. Meanwhile, concerns about Christian religious freedom on issues like abortion, birth control and gay marriage, which flared repeatedly over the past decade, have returned in debates over Supreme Court nominations, executive orders, and health care reforms.

Tensions over religious diversity and claims of religious discrimination or entitlement have alternatively simmered or raged over the entire course of American history from the colonial era to today. A number of developments—recent patterns of immigration, fears of terrorism, international military conflicts, social movements advancing LGBTQ rights, the rising prominence of white nationalist or “alt right” political groups—have brought new and old conflicts to the fore. These events have involved people from an array of religions or religious perspectives—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, atheists. But how do Americans perceive such religious conflicts? In their eyes, when does equal treatment require accommodating diverse religious views or practices (e.g., not ‘imposing’ duties to perform services at odds with religious beliefs), and when do they believe the need for equal treatment overrides religious considerations (e.g., requiring identical security procedures even if some of those violate religious restrictions on dress or contact)? Why do Americans sometimes support “religious accommodations” in the enactment or enforcement of public policy and yet other times oppose them?

We seek to shed light on how the American public reacts to these debates over private and public action and, in particular, the factors that shape religious (in)tolerance and related public policies. Drawing on news stories of both well-known and obscure conflicts that have arisen in the U.S. in recent years, our project will feature a series of survey experiments to study variation across individuals and situations. We especially consider the relative bearing three factors have on public reactions: the religious identities of claimants and respondents, principled views (e.g., about the First Amendment, equal treatment, public vs. private spheres), and pragmatic considerations the details of particular situations (e.g., the relative imposition on a religious claimant relative to others). We also investigate the moderating role, if any, played by individual differences personal religiosity and religious literacy.