The 50th anniversary of the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 presents an opportunity for reflection on how far America has truly come in the long march toward equality. Our nation has progressed an enormous distance, undoubtedly; yet there is still a long way to go. It seems that prejudice has not disappeared so much as expanded its targets and now Muslims bear a large part of the burden of discrimination.
On September 11, 2001, Americans were confronted with the deadliest-ever terrorist attack on U.S. soil, wrought by radical Islamist group al-Qaeda. Thousands lost their lives and many more were injured; their families grieved, and the nation grieved with them. After 9/11, many Americans—spurred by an increasingly sensationalist and reactionary media—began to fear the Islamic faith and all those associated with it. In the worst cases, that fear turned to hate, and violent attacks on Muslims—and those mistakenly identified as Muslims—sharply rose. More than ten years later, the effects of 9/11 are still readily apparent: in the form of memorials and an unceasing sense of grief, but also in the form of discrimination against Muslims.
Although Muslims comprise less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, since 2001, more than 20 percent of religion-based discrimination charges brought to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have been from Muslim complainants. Discrimination against a job applicant or employee based on religion is illegal; yet recent studies by University of Connecticut (UConn) sociologists indicate a pattern of religious discrimination in hiring in regions of New England and the Southern United States, with Muslims being the most heavily targeted.
The UConn team sent out mock resumes in attempts to apply for entry level jobs, with the resumes being comparable in every facet except for religious affiliation. Apart from the control group, which had no religious affiliation, each resume listed affiliation with some type of on campus religious organization, such as “Muslim Student Group.” In New England, researchers submitted 6,400 resumes to 1,600 jobs advertised within 150 miles of Hartford, Connecticut. Muslim applicants got 32 percent fewer emails and 48 percent fewer callbacks–overall, receiving 41 percent fewer contacts.
In the South, the researchers sent 3,200 resumes to 800 jobs within 150 miles of two major Southern cities. Muslims got 38 percent fewer emails and 54 percent fewer callbacks than the control group.
“Considering that the Muslim resumes did not contain Arab-sounding names or Islamic cultural references, this finding is probably a conservative estimate of the prejudice against Muslims,” note the study’s authors. The study indicates that due strictly to their religious practice Muslims are nearly half as likely to be contacted by a prospective employer as non-Muslim applicants.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a similar study, testing the impact of religious affiliation and sexual orientation on employer responses to job applications. The team created fictional resumes, professional network profiles, and social network profiles for Muslim, Christian, gay and straight job applicants, and submitted the resumes to 4,183 job openings in the U.S. The resumes and profiles were comparable in every facet apart from the distinguishing variable; however, researchers found that employers that looked into an applicant’s social media presence were more biased against the Muslim candidate than the Christian candidate. This was especially true in the more politically conservative states, where only 2 percent of Muslim applicants received interviews in comparison to 17 percent of Christian applicants.
Without access to steady employment and income, it is harder to find housing. It is harder to buy food. It is, simply put, harder to live in America, where the income gap between the nation’s wealthiest and its most destitute is widening at a staggering rate. Islam is a religion of peace, brought low in public opinion by the actions of an extremist minority. It seems cruel to blame thousands of Muslim-Americans for acts they have not committed.
Employment discrimination against Muslims has to stop. Let’s bring our nation closer to the dream of equality invoked by the passage of the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago. Let’s be bigger than fear and ignorance and recognize that every individual, regardless of religion or faith, has a right to equal opportunity in employment.