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Muslims, Religious accommodation


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Religion Law


In our continuing empirical study of religious-liberty decisions in the federal courts, American Muslims were at a distinct and substantial disadvantage in raising free exercise or accommodation claims between 1996 and 2005. With other variables held constant, the likelihood of success for non-Muslim claimants in Religious Free Exercise claims was 38%, while the probability of success for Muslim claimants fell to 22% (with an even higher disparity among court of appeals judges). In sum, Muslim claimants enjoyed only about half the chance to receive accommodation of their religious beliefs and practices as did claimants from other religious communities.

Drawing on insights from legal studies, political science, and social and cognitive psychology, we discuss alternative explanations for this result, including: (1) a cultural antipathy toward Islam as another minority religion outside the modern American religious triumvirate of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism; (2) the growing secularism in certain sectors of society along with opposition to groups holding traditional religious values; (3) the possibility that claims made by Muslims are weaker and deserve to be rejected on the merits; and (4) the fears harbored by many Americans that followers of Islam pose a security danger to the United States, especially in an era of terrorist anxiety. As a new threat to religious liberty, the persistent uneasiness of many Americans about Islam and its followers appears to have filtered into the attitudes of such well-educated and independent elites as federal judges.

Publication Citation

Published in: Iowa Law Review, vol. 98, no. 1 (November 2012).