Perceived Mistreatment of Muslims Blots an Otherwise Rosy View of Religious Freedom in the U.S. Among Foreigners
This article is part of a series on Global Perceptions of the United States, leveraging surveys from 17 countries on six continents to understand how American society, culture and politics are perceived around the world.
People across the world tend to perceive the United States positively in terms of religious freedom, but a widespread perception exists that Americans are relatively intolerant toward Muslims and deferential toward Christians, according to new survey data from 17 countries.
U.S. Religious Freedom Is Widely Viewed Positively From Abroad
Religious freedom in the United States gets high marks worldwide
- Majorities of adults in 15 countries characterize religious freedom in the United States as “fair” or better, and in every surveyed country, the share of respondents who rate religious freedom positively exceeds the share who rate it negatively by at least a 14-percentage-point margin.
- The populaces of the six countries that give the United States the highest marks on religious freedom are predominantly Christian, but that alone doesn’t define views: 47% of adults in Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates — overwhelmingly Muslim countries — say U.S. religious freedom is “good” or “excellent.”
- Adults from the two countries with the smallest economies by gross domestic product, Ghana and Kenya, hold among the most positive views of religious freedom in the United States. Those in wealthier countries, on the other hand, tend to give the United States worse marks on religious freedom.
Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are notably more skeptical
Echoing a trend that emerged from survey data on race relations, adults in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom are most likely to hold critical views of religious freedom in the United States. At least a quarter of adults in each of the three countries say religious freedom in the United States is “poor” or “terrible,” the highest shares of negative views among the nations surveyed. Because the three Anglosphere countries have extensive cultural and economic ties to the United States, higher consumption of U.S. media and news may be leading to harsher views.
How America’s Religious Tolerance Is Viewed Around the World
Perceptions of a U.S. anti-Muslim, pro-Christian bias
- When asked how ordinary Americans treat adherents of various faith traditions and beliefs, respondents in every country are most likely to say Muslims are treated worse than in their home countries. The trend holds regardless of geography, national income or the size of the Muslim population in a given country.
- The trend of more critical views in the wealthier Anglosphere also persists, with adults in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom most likely to say people of any belief are treated worse in the United States.
- On the other hand, in every country but Japan, majorities of respondents say Christians are treated better or about the same as in their own countries.
- A perceived tolerance for irreligious people is also evident, particularly in heavily religious countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Poland and Indonesia.
America’s prominent Jewish community leads perceptions of relatively higher tolerance
Uniquely among all countries surveyed, German and Polish respondents are more likely to say Jewish people are treated better in the United States than at home compared with any other faith. Nazi Germany was, needless to say, the primary perpetrator of the Holocaust during which 3 million Polish Jews were killed, more than in any other country and roughly half the total of estimated Jewish victims.
The largest Jewish community to avoid mass extermination during the Holocaust was in the United States, and today it has the largest population of practicing Jews outside Israel. Adults in the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Indonesia, France, Canada and Australia are all more likely to say Judaism is better tolerated in the United States than any other faith but Christianity.
The Morning Consult surveys were conducted Oct. 14-18, Oct. 26-29, Nov. 16-21 and Dec. 15-30, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 adults in each country, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.