Religious discrimination particularly high for Jews and Muslims, study shows

Although people of all faiths report growing religious discrimination during the past few years, the phenomenon is most common among Jews and Muslims, according to a new study from researchers at Rice University and West Virginia University (WVU). In addition, Jews and Muslims are much more likely to become victims of violence because of their religious beliefs.

Elaine Howard Ecklund. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

Elaine Howard Ecklund. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

“Individuals’ Experiences with Religious Hostility, Discrimination, and Violence: Findings from a New National Survey” was recently published in Socius, a journal of the American Sociological Association. Researchers Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program and the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, and Christopher P. Scheitle, an associate professor of sociology at WVU, included samples of religious groups that are in the minority in the United States (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists) as well as Christians in their study.

About a quarter of those surveyed reported feeling hostility or disrespect toward their religion when interacting with other people, but over one-third of Jews and almost two-thirds of Muslims reported having such experiences.

Jews and Muslims were also more likely to report religious harassment, threats and violence. While 8.7% of all the people surveyed reported being threatened with physical violence due to their religion, threats were reported by 16.7% of Jews and 20.3% of Muslims.

Muslims and Jews were also the most likely to report organizational discrimination. Only 1.7% of those surveyed overall reported being denied services in a place of business because of their religion, but 5.9% of Jews and 5.8% of Muslims did.

All of these discriminatory experiences occurred regardless of an individual’s race or ethnicity, national origin and other characteristics, the researchers wrote.

Christopher Scheitle

There were some noteworthy differences between the experiences of Jews and Muslims. “Muslim adults were much more likely to report being harassed by the police (21%), while only 2.2% of Jewish adults say they have experienced such harassment,” Scheitle said. “This highlights that Muslim adults face some unique forms of discrimination.”

“I think that, at some level, leaders do not think of religious discrimination as a problem,” Ecklund said. “Unfortunately, our results show that religious discrimination is alive and well.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award Nos. 1754015 and 1753972) and by a grant from Rice’s Faculty Initiatives Fund. It is available online at

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