Are more religiously traditional people less tolerant of atheists in public life? Lee Seigalman over at Monkey Cage summarizes the results of a study that indicates yes.
There are some signs that religious Americans have become more tolerant of those who hold different religious views. But by no means has religious intolerance faded away.
That’s the conclusion of a new report by James Gibson, based on a national survey he conducted in 2007. (For an extended overview of the results, click here.) In brief, based on survey respondents’ answers to a series of questions, Gibson created an index of “religious traditionalism,” some defining characteristics of which are frequent attendance at religious services and belief in God and the devil. The respondents were also asked about their willingness to deny one or more political rights (e.g., to give speeches, hold demonstrations, and run for public office) to atheists...
Gibson speculates that the link between religious traditionalism and political intolerance may “become more serious for American politics in the future,” not less so... "Future research should therefore focus on methods by which all citizens — religionists included — can be persuaded to value tolerance more highly.”
Absent changing the mind of religious traditionalists, I think Gibson's speculation was confirmed by a recent survey. 15% (up from 8% in 1990) of the population now says they have no religion meanwhile the rising numbers calling themselves born again or evangelical might indicate a rise in those hewing towards religious conservatism. I don't think most of those holding no religion will mirror the desire to restrict the organization rights of the religious, although that would be an interesting study to see. Even if it isn't mirrored, I think Douthat is right to suggest that the survey indicates that the culture war is likely to get hotter in the near future.
However, what I really would like to see is this study done for ideology the restrictions that fanatics are willing to put on athiests, "to give speeches, hold demonstrations, and run for public office," have been deployed against political groups before. In America that sort of thing has been done to socialists, let alone communists. Of course in Germany, such rules are presently employed against neo-Nazis. Their reasons are understandable but doing exluding anyone from participation, rather than vehemently out-competing them, runs against liberal pluralistic ideals. Not saying Germany is necessarily wrong here, just that I think the burden of proof for that sort of policy should be very high.
I wonder whether ideologues feel this as strongly as religious traditionalists. I wonder which systems of belief are most prone to it. Is it consisitently mirrored or does it sometimes hold on only one side? This issue is truly vital in young democracies but I don't think it's fully understood even in the developed world.