Religion in USA


In matters of religion the United States has long been one of the most pluralistic of nations. The lack of a national religion resulted in religious freedom being explicitly recognized in the Bill if Rights f attached to the original Constitution.

One of the reasons for which many of the first immigrants left their own countries was to escape religious persecution. From earliest, times religion has offered strength and solace to Americans of many faiths. It has also been a factor in shaping the Nation's history. Centuries ago the global rivalry between Catholicism and Protestantism, helped to spur exploration and colonization of the New World. Britain's chronic need for new settlers to people her empire encouraged her to allow her American Colonies a wide measure of religious freedom. That policy, in turn, established America as a likely sanctuary for dissenters from many lands. These immigrants brought with them their own particular brands of different religions.

America became a safer haven for believers and non-believers alike when the Constitution and the Bill of Rights made freedom of conscience a matter of right rather than privilege for the first time in history.

The variety of religions increased at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries with the massive influx of immigrants from central and southern Europe. Succeeding decades saw old churches altered and many influential new ones born. And most of these churches involved themselves in causes ranging from temperance and foreign missions to slavery.

Overwhelmingly Protestant at first, America became increasingly pluralistic after the Civil War as successive waves of immigration brought more believers of the Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Eastern Orthodox persuasions. The majority of the population, however, belong to one of the 1,000 of Protestant Churches. Nearly a quarter of the present population are Catholic and there are also about 6 million Jews.

With new religious concepts proliferating, a common phenomenon in the United States has become the rise of new Churches or sects, such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Scientists. By the end of the 20,h century there were more than 250 established cults, sects, and denominations. To what can this extraordinary richness be attributed? Some faiths — like Anglicanism and Catholicism— outwardly changed relatively little for many years. Others — like Quakerism — were greatly altered by life in the New World. Still others arrived with the 19th century immigrant tide or were "made in America".

In America there used to be many preachers traveling around the nation with their bibles. There are very few of them now, as most preachers make use of television to preach their message.


Religion has had a special place in the history of black America. Colonial slaves were often baptized, but little effort was made at true conversion until the 1730s and 1740s.

Separate black churches were forbidden on most plantations for fear they would foment rebellion. Slaves usually sat apart in their owners' churches, where, as one ex-slave recalled, they were told by the priest to do "what your master tells you to do". But plantation slaves often met to worship in secret, led by forceful slave preachers. Some of them gave hope to their listeners, assuring them that God would end slavery. Not all of them spoke about patience, however. Many black preachers were at the head of insurrections.

As the first American social body controlled by blacks, the church was usually the most important Negro institution in the community: it promoted education, offered aid to the poor, and provided hope for the future and sanctuary from white hostility.

Venerated by their flocks, black ministers were community leaders. They acted as spiritual shepherds, mediated disputes, and served as spokesmen in dealing with whites. Such modern black politicians and civil rights leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Andrew Young and many others were solidly rooted in that tradition.

The 20th century migration of the Negro poor from the rural South to Northern cities spawned new forms of black religion. By 1970 there were well over 35 all-black denominations, claiming nearly 10 million adherents, plus many smaller, less formally organized sects.

The black churches have reflected the needs of their people. In an America in which blacks are still all too often "last hired and first fired", religion remains a strong force for strength and unity.