X-Message-Number: 27777
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 10:14:10 -0600
From: IGGY & Svetlana <>
Subject: Atheists identified as America's most distrusted minority,


Atheists identified as America's most distrusted minority, according to new
U of M study 

What: U of M study reveals America's distrust of atheism 
Who: Penny Edgell, associate professor of sociology  
Contact: Nina Shepherd, sociology media relations, (612) 599-1148
Mark Cassutt University News Service, (612) 624-8038 

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (3/28/2006) -- American's increasing acceptance of
religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god,
according to a national survey by researchers in the University of
Minnesota's department of sociology. 

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university
researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent
immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their
vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most
Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and
relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the
American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists,
who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring
exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30
years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's
lead researcher. 

Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews
and communists have played in the past-they offer a symbolic moral boundary
to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that
diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values
that make them trustworthy-and in America, that 'core' has historically been
religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism
with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to
rampant materialism and cultural elitism. 

Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is
behind the findings. "Americans believe they share more than rules and
procedures with their fellow citizens-they share an understanding of right
and wrong," she said. "Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as
self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good." 

The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related
not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity,
education and political orientation-with more educated, East and West Coast
Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts. 

The study is co-authored by assistant professor Joseph Gerteis and associate
professor Doug Hartmann. It's the first in a series of national studies
conducted the American Mosaic Project, a three-year project funded by the
Minneapolis-based David Edelstein Family Foundation that looks at race,
religion and cultural diversity in the contemporary United States. The study
will appear in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

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