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Hard to [not] believe

June 13, 2006

Americans' increasing acceptance of religious diversity apparently 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.

The 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 also rank as the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

"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. "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."

The researchers also found Midwesterners less accepting of atheists than their East and West Coast counterparts.

The study is the first in a series of national studies conducted by the American Mosaic Project, which looks at race, religion, and cultural diversity in the contemporary United States. The study appeared in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

To learn more about the Mosaic Project, read Fear and tolerance in America or visit the University of Minnesota Department of Sociology.