03/22/2006 - Although tolerance is an American ideal and freedom of religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, American history has often been characterized by inter-religious conflict. Without question, however, much progress has been made in overcoming blatant forms of institutionalized religious discrimination. But historic tensions among American religious groups, not to mention heightened concerns in the post-9/11 world about a clash of civilizations, ensure that the question of inter-religious relations will remain an important issue for the public as well as for religious and political leaders.
Public opinion polls conducted by the Pew Research Center shed some light on interreligious relations and the prospects for inter-religious cooperation and understanding. The findings confirm that certain historical religious divisions and tensions have largely been put aside. Catholics and Jews, for example, once the objects of widespread and often institutionalized discrimination, are now viewed favorably by a sizable majority of Americans. But the poll findings also suggest that other religious groups, including evangelical Christians and especially Muslims, are not fully accepted by many Americans.