Professor Steve Pfaff published an op-ed in The Washington Post on September 11 that details the results of his recent audit study about religious discrimination in US public schools.
Pfaff's research was designed to measure whether public school principals would respond differently to families based on their stated religious affiliation. Pfaff and his collaborators conducted an audit study, a powerful research method that asks decision makers to respond to a randomly assigned but fictional application or request. Audit studies have famously shown the impact of having a criminal record on employment, and are frequently used to study housing discrimination. In this instance, Pfaff's group sent emails to over 45,000 school principals purportedly from a family interested in sending their child to the principal's school, and asking for a meeting. The fictional emails signaled that the family had a specific religious affiliation or that they were atheists, and varied in the level of accommodation the family sought; a set of emails from control 'families' did not mention religion or religious needs. Results of the audit study revealed that U.S. principals were less likely to offer meet with Muslim families, and discriminated at about the same rate against atheist families.
Pfaff concludes his op-ed,
Public schools play a vitally important role in ensuring that social minorities receive equal treatment under the law. Our results suggest that atheists and Muslims are not currently receiving this equal treatment. To achieve such a goal, public school officials and other policymakers may wish to consider testing and implementing policies and practices that protect people holding a full range of beliefs.