Hostility to Atheists:

As I noted below, the hostility to atheism in America seems remarkable, and quite troubling. A July 7, 2005 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, asked people several questions about their views of various religious and political grounds, and whether "your overall opinion of [the group] is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" Here are the numbers for various groups:


Very favorable (%)

Mostly favorable

Mostly unfavorable

Very unfavorable











"Evangelical Christians"





"Muslim Americans"





"Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God"





This strikes me as quite troubling — 50% of Americans have an unfavorable view of people whose great sin, as best I can tell, is that they refuse to take on faith what others are willing to take on faith. I'm pleased that hostility to Jews and Catholics seems to be much less than what it used to be in the past. I hope the same will soon happen as to Muslim Americans and Evangelical Christians; that one may disagree with some Evangelical Christians' political agenda, for instance, is surely no reason to view them unfavorably as people (just as one's disagreement with most American Jews' liberalism is no reason for viewing them unfavorably). Yet the high level of disapproval of atheists should make us worry about American religious harmony and tolerance more broadly.

UPDATE: For more information, which may more precisely reflect willingness to discriminate against individuals (at least in voting) and not just unfavorable viewpoint of a group, and which involves a poll that didn't use the possibly negatively laden term "atheism," see the post above.

UPDATE: One of the commenters thought these were all options in answering one question; I've tried to clarify above that there were separate questions for each group.

FURTHER UPDATE: Another commenter wrote, "I dont know about this poll. How much of this might be blowback from the lawsuits about the pledge of [allegiance], the 'holiday' season, the cross in the city seal of LA, etc etc etc?" Well, I can't speak to all these lawsuits, but we can probably control for the Newdow pledge of allegiance lawsuit; that lawsuit really hit the news, to my knowledge, in June 2002, when the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff. A Pew Research Center poll in Feb. 2002 asked "Now thinking about some specific religious groups, is your overall opinion of...Atheists, that is, people who don't believe in God very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?" 5% said "very favorable," 29% "mostly favorable," 23% "mostly unfavorable," and 31% "very unfavorable" — results quite similar to those found by the 2005 poll.