According to the authors of American Grace, the three least-liked religious groups in the United States are Muslims, Mormons, and Buddhists--and I can't remember the order. Perhaps the respondents know these three groups least among religions, but considering the general religious illiteracy of the American population, it's gotta be something else, too (respectively: 9/11, polygamy, and the buzzkill doctrine that wanting stuff causes suffering, maybe?). Whatever the reason, I'm guessing we will hear more and more rhetoric about the first two groups over the next year of endless campaigning.
For example, Herman Cain--by far the most intriguing presidential candidate so far (Sarah P. hasn't "officially" jumped in yet)--just told Glenn Beck that he might appoint a Muslim to his cabinet, even if it made him "uncomfortable," as long as he/she took a loyalty oath to the U.S. Constitution. Would Catholics or Mormons be held to the same standard? asked Beck. "Nope," answered Cain. He actually said the word nope.
Then there's a new survey from Quinnipiac University reported by the WSJ and posted here purporting to discover that though Mitt Romney is the clear frontrunner among possible GOP candidates for 2012, only 60% of voters are "entirely or somewhat comfortable" with a Mormon in the White House, compared to 83% for a Catholic president. African Americans are the least comfortable with the idea of Mitt as president, with 54% being somewhat or entirely uncomfortable.
The WSJ article is about Romney & his Mormon challenge, but not much is made of the other dramatic numbers in the study. For example, 59% of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of a Muslim president, and 60% would be uncomfortable--44% "entirely uncomfortable"--with an atheist as president. These percentages plummet when respondents are asked about how they feel about women, African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, or Jews.
What this means is that regardless of what the Constitution says about religious tests for public figures, Americans can't stop themselves from applying them when they "honestly assess themselves," as the language of the Quinnipiac survey puts it.