Hijab, yarmulke, cross ban: Do Americans support religious symbols?
Even as interest in organized religion declines in the United States, Americans remain overwhelmingly supportive of public displays of faith, according to new research from Deseret News and Marist Poll.
The survey showed that more than 9 in 10 American adults, including 93% of those who do not practice religion, feel “very comfortable” or “at ease” with people wearing symbols or religious clothing. Republicans (96%) and Democrats (92%) are almost equally supportive of the practice, as are younger and older Americans.
“I think Americans are very proud of the promise of religious freedom,” Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, said of the Deseret/Marist poll. They want people to be free to live out their faith with their wardrobe, just as they are free to pray with any religious group that suits their needs.
Other countries are more wary of religious attire, including cross necklaces or head coverings worn by some Muslim women. This month, an Indian court upheld a ban on the wearing of the hijab in some schools, ruling that the headscarf is not “a core religious practice of Islam”, as reported by The Associated Press.
“The decision came at a time when violence and hate speech against Muslims has increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party,” the article noted.
In 2019, the Canadian province of Quebec passed a law banning a range of public sector employees, including some teachers and police officers, from wearing religious attire like yarmulkes or turbans at work. Although part of this measure was overturned by a court last year, most of it remains in place, according to Al Jazeera.
France has also recently restricted religious expression in public as part of a broader campaign against sectarian extremism. “French law … prohibits 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 United States are passing laws creating additional protections for people of faith. Over the past year, Illinois and Ohio have adjusted school sports rules to ensure young athletes can wear faith-related clothing during their competitions.
“We’ve decided that one of the biggest issues we want to address is to ensure that every child has the opportunity to participate in athletics,” said Maaria Mozaffar, director of advocacy and policy for Illinois Muslim. Civic Coalition, at Religion News Service last fall.
However, these new policies and research showing strong public support for religious clothing does not mean that the United States is without problems. “There are moments of prejudice,” Patel said.
Recent surveys have shown that some Americans, including many members of minority religions, fear discrimination because they publicly identify with an unpopular religious group.
In 2020, more than half of Jews (53%) said they felt less safe than in the past and 15% said they had been called offensive names in the past year, according to the Pew Research Center.
About 6 in 10 Jews (58%) and Muslims (60%) have personal experience of religious discrimination, compared to just 29% of Protestant Christians and 26% of Catholics, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Findings like these show that there is still work to be done to help people feel comfortable sharing their faith in public. But Americans should embrace this work, as most are passionate about the country’s promise of religious freedom for all, Patel said.
“Americans are proud of that and want to live up to that North Star,” he said.