Religion in America


The United Sates of America is a country with no royal family, no heritage of timeless and interdependent state institutions, no symbols or national icons that date back centuries, a country without one dominant religion or church.1 It is a country where immigrants freely come with their own religions, values, and cultures. Many of these immigrants share their beliefs, and many differ. The increasing religious diversity in the nation has an effect on how Americans choose to have the country run and on who runs it.


People have been immigrating to the United States since the ancestors of the Native Americans crossed the Bering straight over 10,000 years ago. Since then, the people, their nationalities, and their religions have differed dramatically from the Native Americans. The Native American religion put an emphasis on nature. They worshipped the trees, and all life, and the earth itself. “The lake is our church. The mountain is our tabernacle. The evergreen trees are our living saints…We pray to the water, the sun, the clouds, the sky, the deer.”2 The main group of people to come to America since the Native Americans is the Europeans, who brought back a very different concept of religion.


The Europeans had many different denominations that branched out once in America. People came to America for religious diversity and tolerance, and felt safe expressing themselves and their beliefs. Before 1690, 90% of all congregations in colonial America were either Puritan or Anglican.3 The Puritans were English people, mostly inhabiting New England, that were unable to reach further reformation in the Church of England and therefore came to America. They were simple people that were strong followers of the bible, not just sermons. The Anglicans were also English, who wanted to remain English and continue the Church of England in America. They settled in Virginia, where there churches were supported by the taxpayers. Other than the Puritans and Anglicans there were many other smaller denominations that began forming.


Most of the religions outside of Puritan and Anglican were started by one radical leader or by immigrants from other countries in Europe. The Quakers settled in Pennsylvania under the leadership of William Penn, and also were very simple people that wanted religion to be kept separate from government. They eventually had a hard time because they were anti-slavery pacifists and refused to join in any war efforts and Americans doubted their loyalty.4 The Huguenots were Calvinists from France that settled mostly in Boston, New York, and South Carolina. They did not last long because they were not strict with who they could marry and married outside of the religion often. Germans came to America bringing six religions with them; Lutherans, German Reformed, Mennonites, Moravians, German Baptists, and Catholics. The German Reformed and the Lutherans were the largest two religions of the German immigrants. Jews entered the American colonies in the late 17th century. They mostly settled in New York City where the two main groups, Sephardics and Ashkenazics, practiced their faith. Jewish families were faced with much adversity in terms of religious tolerance from the other religions in the area. Finally, the Baptists and Methodists arrived in the colonies. The Baptists settled mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and were much like Calvinists. They believed in baptism for adults where they can wash away the “original sin”. The Methodists were a reform group of the Church of England started by John and Charles Wesley. They believed in methodical praying and heavy reading of the scriptures.5 Mormonism, another denomination of Christianity, was very controversial. They departed from traditional standards of sexuality and monogamous marriage and stressed the isolation of modern society.


With so many different religions and value systems in the country it would be very difficult to enforce one religious doctrine over another using government influence. Even though the majority of the country was Christian and most of those were Protestant, there still would be disputes within the state system between leaders of different denominational backgrounds. The Founding Fathers were aware of this issue and thought not to introduce religious concepts into any federal documents.


The United States Constitution was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788; it is a completely godless document. 6 The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no