30% of Americans believe it's okay for businesses not to serve gay folks

Discrimination is up across the board.

30% of Americans believe it's okay for businesses not to serve gay folks
Photo credit: Joe Amon / The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • A new poll by PPRI found that nearly a quarter of Americans say it's okay to not serve atheists on religious grounds.
  • The pro-discrimination number was even higher regarding gays and lesbians.
  • Bias against Jews, Muslims, and African Americans is also increasing.

Discrimination has long been an ugly human trait. Bias served an important role over the long course of evolution — "Is this friend or foe approaching?" — but this social and biological construct has largely failed us over the last few centuries.

In an age of instantaneous global connectivity the case for diversity is stark, yet the chains of the past still bind us.

That's the consensus of a new poll, at least, by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization that specializes in identifying trends in religious life and belief. This wide-ranging survey discovered that bias against atheists and the LBGT community still runs high; on the flip side, negative feelings toward the religious remains problematic, with more atheists believing it kosher to discriminate against the faithful.

The survey centers on a single question: Is it okay to refuse business to a person of [race/belief]? This updated poll (the last was in 2014) follows an infamous case of a Colorado baker that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor: yes, on religious grounds someone gay can be refused service. The baker is now being sued for a third time, the latest due to his refusal for creating a gender transition cake.

Transgenders are also included in the PPRI survey, along with gays and lesbians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and African Americans, representing a broad swath of groups to discriminate against — belief, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation all on the table.

While this might seem a hodgepodge of groups to clump together, the broad topic of "service refusal" offers disturbing (yet also somewhat hopeful) clues into how the human mind invents and then swears by categorization. The survey was conducted by randomly interviewing 1,100 American adults over the age of 18 in April, 2019. Texas is oversampled in this poll, with 150 respondents living in that state.

The good news is that the majority of Americans do not feel it right to discriminate on any grounds. Yet the trend lines reveal a more troubling narrative: in every group, more Americans feel it justified to refuse service in 2019 than just five years earlier.

Atheists

While there is a growing number of atheists, "nones," and liminals in America, nearly a quarter of respondents (24 percent) claim that it's okay for business owners to refuse to serve atheists. Though the focus should be on the 72 percent of Americans that disagree, there is one disturbing trend: the nays are up nearly 10 percent since 2014, when only 15 percent of respondents felt the same. Religious backlash or oversampled Texas? Difficult to gauge.

Republicans remained the most anti-atheist group, with 37 percent giving a thumbs up to discriminating against nonbelievers. Independents came in at 21 percent and Democrats at 17 percent. The big shift is in Republicanism, as only 19 percent felt the same in 2014.

Gays and Lesbians

While every group feels discriminated against in some capacity in a time when everyone has a platform to argue such, over the last decade gays and lesbians have led the charge in fighting back against a history of persecution, jailing, and murder. Still, nearly a third of Americans (30 percent) believe it is fine for business owners to not serve them.

While Republicans are leading the polls (47 percent versus 21 percent in 2014), Independents and Democrats are also more biased today than just a half-decade ago, pushing the overall number up from 16 percent to 30 percent.

Transgender People

There was no poll for transgender people in 2014, showing just how quickly this topic has arisen in popular American consciousness. The numbers discriminating against the transgendered is comparable to gays and lesbians, with 29 percent of Americans giving a thumbs up to discriminatory behavior. Men were more biased in this regard (34 percent versus 24 percent of women), with Republicans landing at 44 percent, Independents at 25 percent, and Democrats at 19 percent.

Image source: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Jews

Antisemitism is a growing concern in our world. While it has always been a problem (as thousands of years of texts describe), you'd think we would have learned the lesson we needed eighty years ago. Not the case.

Discriminating against Jews is up seven percent since 2014, landing at 19 percent this year. The charge is once again led by Republicans at 24 percent, followed by Democrats at 17 percent. Independents clocked in one point behind Democrats.

Muslims

Muslims were also not included in the 2014 poll. In 2019, they were slightly less biased against than atheists, slightly more than Jews, landing at 22 percent. As with every other category in this poll, men were more likely to favor discrimination than women (25 versus 20 percent), while 32 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Democrats are in favor of not serving them if the business owner felt that okay.

African Americans

Of all the groups polled, it might bring a certain sense of comfort that African Americans were the least discriminated against group, as this is the only category based purely on race. That said, like the other trend lines, we have a lot of work to do. Favor of discriminating against blacks rose 50 percent, from 10 percent to 15 percent in 2019. The biggest leap in bias occurred amongst white evangelical Protestants, up from 8 percent in 2014 to 22 percent this year.

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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