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AP-NORC Poll: More see religious liberties as important for Christians than Muslims

WASHINGTON — Americans are more likely to say protecting religious liberties of Christians is important than to say the same for Muslims, according to a new poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll finds most Americans think the government is doing a generally good job of protecting religious liberties.

Here are some things to know about public opinion on civil liberties from the AP-NORC poll:

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DIVIDE ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTIES

Majorities of Americans think it's important to protect religious freedoms for a variety of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.

But they're significantly more likely to say so of some groups than others. While 82 per cent of Americans say that it's extremely or very important that Christians be allowed to freely practice their religion in the United States, just 61 per cent say the same for Muslims. Seventy-two per cent say religious freedom is important for Jews, and 67 per cent say the same of Mormons. And 63 per cent say it's important to protect the freedoms of people with no religion.

Among Republicans, 88 per cent say it's important that Christians be able to worship freely and 60 per cent say so of Muslims. Among Democrats, too, there's a gap, with 83 per cent saying religious liberties are important for Christians and 67 per cent saying so for Muslims.

Eight in 10 Americans say it's very or extremely important for people like themselves to be allowed to practice their religion freely.

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MIXED OPINIONS ON PROTECTING RIGHTS

Americans give the government decent marks on protecting religious liberties, with 55 per cent saying it does a very or somewhat good job of that while 27 per cent say it's doing a poor job.

On protecting several other rights, too, the government generally finds approval. Seven in 10 say it does at least a somewhat good job protecting the right to vote, and nearly 6 in 10 say it's doing a good job of protecting freedom of speech and press.

But just 4 in 10 Americans rate the government's performance as good on protecting the right to equal protection under the law, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, or the right to bear arms.

Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say the government is doing a good job of protecting the right to freedom of religion, 64 per cent to 49 per cent.

On protecting the right to bear arms, 46 per cent of Democrats and just 33 per cent of Republicans approve of the government's performance.

Independents are generally less likely than either Democrats or Republicans to say the government is doing a good job of protecting Americans' rights.

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SAFETY TRUMPS CIVIL LIBERTIES

The poll finds that for most Americans, safety concerns trump civil liberties at least some of the time. More than half — 54 per cent — say it's sometimes necessary for the government to sacrifice freedoms to fight terrorism, while 45 per cent think that's not necessary. On a more general level, 42 per cent in the poll say it's more important for the government to ensure Americans' safety than to protect their rights, while 27 per cent think rights are more important and 31 per cent rate both equally.

And a majority of Americans— 56 per cent — favour warrantless government surveillance of internet communications, including for U.S. citizens, to watch for suspicious activity that might be connected with terrorism.

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TERRORISM CONCERNS RISING

The poll finds that concerns about terrorism have risen since 2013. In the latest poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned that they or their family might be victims of a terrorist attack, after just 3 in 10 said so two years ago.

Six in 10 Americans in the new survey think that the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, indicate an increased risk of attacks against Western countries, while 37 per cent think the risk is about the same as it was before. Three-quarters of Republicans and majorities of both Democrats and independents think the attacks are an indication of increased risk.

Americans are similarly concerned about both domestic terrorism and possible attacks by Islamic extremist groups, with about 6 in 10 saying they're at least somewhat concerned about each.

The poll finds that Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to say they're concerned about domestic terrorism, but Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say they're concerned about attacks by Islamic extremists, 67 per cent to 47 per cent.

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The AP-NORC Poll of 1,042 adults was conducted online and by phone Dec. 10-13 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for AmeriSpeak who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were interviewed over the phone.

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Online:

AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/

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Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/EL_Swan

Emily Swanson, The Associated Press

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