By Nicole Neroulias
c. 2010 Religion News Service
(RNS) The outcry over the proposed Islamic community center near Ground
Zero should not be lumped together with protests against planned mosques
in other parts of the country, a new poll suggests.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose building an Islamic center or
mosque two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks, but 76
percent would support one in their own communities, according to a
PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released on Thursday (Aug. 26).
The strongest opposition to the New York project, called Park51,
came from Republicans (85 percent) and white evangelicals (75 percent
opposed the New York project, and 24 percent don’t support mosques in
their own communities), according to the poll conducted by Public
Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service.
The numbers suggest that the negative reaction to what’s been dubbed
the “Ground Zero mosque” stems more from its proximity a site that’s
considered “sacred ground” by a majority of Americans rather than the
general Islamophobia exhibited in the nationwide protests, researchers
“Our findings indicate that while the vocal opposition around the
country we’ve seen covered is real, it may not represent the views of
the vast majority of Americans,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public
Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research firm in Washington.
“People are drawing a distinction between support for a
(hypothetical) mosque in their local community and support for the
particular mosque a few blocks from the former site of the World Trade
Among other findings from the PRRI/RNS poll:
— Fifty-six percent of Americans consider the site of the 9/11
attacks “sacred ground,” including 68 percent of Catholics, 53 percent
of white evangelicals, and 48 percent who claim no religious
affiliation. Thirty-eight percent disagreed.
— Sixty-three percent of Catholics, 58 percent of black Protestants
and 55 percent of mainline Protestants expressed opposition to the New
York Islamic center. The only group that was marginally supportive was
religiously unaffiliated Americans, of whom 43 percent supported the
project and 40 percent opposed it.
Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College
in Hartford, Conn., said the poll may reflect the success of Park51’s
opponents in getting their message across earlier and louder.
“You first hear `they’re building a giant mosque on the site of
9/11,’ and of course your first thought is that it’s not a good idea.
Then you hear that it’s a few blocks away … but you’ve already been
thinking that it’s not a good idea,” he said. “It’s a matter of public
In recent weeks, Park51 organizers have tried to revamp the
project’s image, including changing its name from Cordoba House and
assembling a supportive coalition that includes interfaith leaders and
families affected by 9/11.
Park51 organizers Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan
have rejected suggestions that they relocate the project, a compromise
move pushed by New York Gov. David Paterson and New York Archbishop
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg maintained his support for
Park51 at a Ramadan Dinner at Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, calling the
project “a test of our commitment to American values.”
Relocating Park51 would not resolve the conflict, and it would send
the wrong message to Muslims at home and abroad, added Ibrahim Hooper,
spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“This is a manufactured controversy that is exploiting legitimate
emotions generated by the 9/11 attacks, by a vocal minority of
individuals with an agenda to marginalize Muslims and demonize Islam,”
he said. “I don’t think hate-mongers should be handled a victory.”
A separate study released by the Pew Research Center found that
American opinions of Islam have dropped from 41 percent favorable to 30
percent favorable since 2005. On the other hand, only 35 percent said
they believe Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage
violence, compared to 38 percent last year.
Hooper called the polls consistent with CAIR’s position that the
mosque protests across the country represent a minority, however vocal,
of public sentiment.
“We need to promote educational initiatives and outreach initiatives
in the local communities,” he said. “When people know more about Islam,
prejudice goes down. And when they interact more with Muslims, prejudice
also goes down.”
Silk found some reason for optimism in the fact that a strong
majority of Americans reject the idea of treating minority religions
with fear and suspicion, even at a time of war.
“The history of the country has not been so great on a lot of
feelings towards minorities, whether they’re blacks or Jews or
Catholics, and of course the Japanese during World War II,” he said.
“Yet three-quarters of the American people acknowledge the right of
Muslims to build religious centers in their own communities. I think
that’s not too bad, really.”
The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll was based on telephone interviews of
1,005 U.S. adults between August 20 and 22. The poll has a margin of
error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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