Even as interest in organized religion declines in the United States, Americans remain incredibly supportive of public displays of faith, according to new research from the Deseret News and Marist Poll.
The survey showed that more than 9 in 10 U.S. adults, including 93% of those who do not practice a religion, feel “very comfortable” or “comfortable” with people wearing religious symbols or attire. Republicans (96%) and Democrats (92%) are almost equally supportive of this practice, as are the youngest Americans and the oldest.
“I think Americans take a great deal of pride in the promise of freedom of religion,” said Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, about the Deseret/Marist poll. They want people to be free to live out their faith with their wardrobe, just as they are free to worship with whatever faith group fits their needs.
Other countries are more suspicious of religious attire, including cross necklaces or head coverings worn by some Muslim women. Just this month, an Indian court upheld a ban on wearing hijab in some schools, ruling that head scarves are not “an essential religious practice of Islam,” as The Associated Press reported.
“The ruling came at a time when violence and hate speech against Muslims have increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Hindu nationalist party,” the article noted.
In 2019, the Canadian province of Quebec passed a law barring a range of public sector employees, including some teachers and police officers, from wearing religious garb like yarmulkes or turbans while on the job. Although part of that measure was struck down in court last year, most of it remains in effect, according to Al Jazeera.
France has also recently restricted religious expression in public as part of a broader push against faith-based extremism. “French law ... forbids the wearing of what it calls ‘ostentatious,’ religious symbols in public primary and secondary schools, including headscarves, yarmulkes and large crosses,” The Atlantic reported last year.
Meanwhile, state legislatures in the U.S. are passing laws creating additional protections for people of faith. In the past year, both Illinois and Ohio adjusted school sports rules to ensure that young athletes can wear faith-related garb as they compete.
“We decided one of the major issues we want to address is making sure every child has an opportunity to participate in athletics,” said Maaria Mozaffar, director of advocacy and policy for the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, to Religion News Service last fall.
However, these new policies and the research showing strong public support for religious attire does not mean the U.S. is problem free. “There are moments of prejudice,” Patel said.
Recent surveys have shown that some Americans, including many members of minority religions, worry about facing discrimination as a result of publicly identifying with an unpopular faith group.
In 2020, more than half of Jews (53%) said they were feeling less safe than they had in the past and 15% said they’d been called offensive names in the past year, according to Pew Research Center.
Around 6 in 10 Jews (58%) and Muslims (60%) have personal experience with religious discrimination, compared to just 29% of Protestant Christians and 26% of Catholics, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding reported last year.
Findings like these show there’s still work to do to help people feel comfortable sharing their faith in public. But Americans should embrace that work, since most are passionate about the country’s promise of religious freedom for all, Patel said.
“Americans take pride in that and want to live up to that north star,” he said.