That reply became a question at the Republican debate on Saturday. “You said of President Obama, quote, ‘He’s always pitting people against each other,’ ” ABC moderator David Muir asked, noting that President George W. Bush had similarly visited a mosque. “So I’m curious,” Muir continued, “how are the two visits different, and would you visit a mosque as president?”
“I would,” Rubio replied. “But that’s not — my problem with what he did is he continues to put out this fiction that there’s widespread systematic discrimination against Muslim Americans.”
Whether or not there exists “widespread” and “systematic” discrimination against Muslim Americans is tricky to assess, given that those adjectives are somewhat subjective. But it’s clear that 1) most Americans think that discrimination against Muslims exists and 2) Republicans are less likely to think that.
Last December, following Donald Trump’s announcement that he wanted to bar Muslims from entering the United States, The Post and ABC News asked Americans whether or not they thought Muslims in the United States experienced discrimination based on their religion. Seventy-three percent of Americans did, with 59 percent saying that the discrimination was unjustified.
Among Republicans, though, more than a third thought Muslims experienced no discrimination — and a third of those who thought that they did thought it was justified. (By contrast, 83 percent of Democrats thought Muslims experienced discrimination.)
Last month, Pew Research surveyed Americans to try and determine how they felt about the patriotism of American Muslims. Sixty-three percent of Republicans said that about half or more of Muslims in the country were “anti-American” — up from 47 percent in 2002. The number of Democrats saying that remained about the same over the last 14 years.
There’s a more concrete way of looking at discrimination against Muslims. The FBI keeps records on hate crimes in the United States, the most recent year of data being 2014. In 2014, there were 1,140 victims of hate crimes based on religion. Of that total, the majority were targeted for being Jewish. The next most commonly targeted religion? Muslims.
Compared to the density of the religions in the population (as measured by Pew), both Jewish and Muslim Americans are targeted disproportionately.
It’s worth noting that 6.1 percent of the religious hate crimes in 2014 targeted Catholics, a group that is about a fifth of the population. Rubio isolated one instance of Catholics feeling oppressed during the debate.
“I do believe it is important also to recognize, you want to talk about religious discrimination in America,” Rubio said. “Well, I don’t think Barack Obama is being sued by any Islamic groups, but he is being sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor. We are facing in this country Christian groups and groups that hold traditional values who feel and in fact are being discriminated against by the laws of this country that try to force them to vie to violate their conscience.”
In 2014, 70 Catholics were targeted for hate crimes, of some 64 million Americans. That same year, 184 of America's 3 million Muslims were similarly targeted.
Is this “widespread,” “systematic” discrimination — if that was President Obama’s point? The voters will end up providing the answer to that question.