Muslims pray
Andrew Locke  /  MSNBC.com file
A recent survey by Cornell University found that found 44 percent of Americans favor at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted in any way.
updated 12/17/2004 9:57:06 PM ET 2004-12-18T02:57:06

Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims’ civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

'Disturbing news'
Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans.

“It’s sad news. It’s disturbing news. But it’s not unpredictable,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. “The nation is at war, even if it’s not a traditional war. We just have to remain vigilant and continue to interface.”

The survey found 44 percent favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted in any way.

The survey showed that 27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.

Cornell student researchers questioned 715 people in the nationwide telephone poll conducted this fall. The margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.

37 percent believe terrorist attack likely
James Shanahan, an associate professor of communications who helped organize the survey, said the results indicate “the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties” in a time of war.

While researchers said they were not surprised by the overall level of support for curtailing civil liberties, they were startled by the correlation with religion and exposure to television news.

“We need to explore why these two very important channels of discourse may nurture fear rather than understanding,” Shanahan said.

According to the survey, 37 percent believe a terrorist attack in the United States is still likely within the next 12 months. In a similar poll conducted by Cornell in November 2002, that number stood at 90 percent.

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