The diverse religious landscape of the United States has been shaped by the right to freedom of religion, established by the Constitution, and immigration.
In fact, U.S. religious pluralism has its origins in America’s colonial past, when members of persecuted religious minorities migrated from Europe to the New World so they could freely practice their faiths. And newcomers still arrive from every corner of the globe, bringing their unique faith traditions to towns and cities across the United States.
Adherents of all faiths are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free exercise of religion and prohibits the government from establishing a state religion or granting preference to any faith group.
Today, Christians belonging to literally thousands of denominations make up three-fourths of the U.S. population, with Roman Catholics making up the largest single denomination. However, all the world’s other major faiths are celebrated in America as well. And some 16 percent of the population is not affiliated with any religion.
While the majority of Americans are devout, they are tolerant of other peoples’ religious beliefs and are strikingly nondogmatic in the sense of not believing their own religion to be the only true path, according to the Pew Research Center. In any U.S. community you’ll find Christians of many denominations assembling for church on Sunday, Jews attending synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning, and Muslims praying daily in their mosques, while Hindus and Buddhists visit temples to meditate and Sikhs attend services at gurdwaras (houses of worship).
Also, interfaith dialogue and prayer services are common in many communities, and interfaith marriages are no longer unusual.
Some faith groups are more prevalent in certain parts of the United States. For example, Lutherans are heavily represented in the upper Midwest, while Baptists — including members of historically black churches — predominate in the Southern states. Eastern Orthodox Christians are most heavily concentrated in Alaska, Pennsylvania, California and New York, while Utah is 90 percent Mormon.
In Dearborn, Michigan, Muslims comprise one-third of the population, while the New York City metropolitan area is home to the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.
Sikhs — like Muslims and Jews — are found throughout the United States, but their numbers are highest in California, New Jersey and New York. Buddhists, primarily found in major U.S. cities, claim San Jose, California, as one of their strongholds.
Quakers, perhaps best known for their pacifist traditions, have historical ties to the American Northeast but are scattered from coast to coast. Hindus are also found across the United States, with the New York region claiming more Hindu temples than any other part of the country, followed by Texas and Massachusetts.
Shinto is practiced in Colorado, Hawaii and Washington state, which has a large number of Americans of Japanese descent. And Native American religious rites, in all their variety, are performed extensively on tribal lands — mostly in the Western states, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
Immigration from Latin America has boosted the ranks of Roman Catholics and some Protestant groups. And because of U.S. cultural shifts, the two groups whose numbers are rising most rapidly are evangelical Protestants and those who claim no religious affiliation.
Some evangelicals worship in “megachurches,” defined as Protestant churches having 2,000 or more people in average weekly attendance. And a few Protestant groups, such as Pentecostals and Wesleyans, still hold “tent revivals” — gatherings of worshipers in a tent, a legacy derived from 19th-century prayer meetings on the American frontier.
Members of these faiths, and many more, celebrate their distinctive holidays and festivals, and increasingly come together for interfaith worship. And, serving alongside their nonreligious neighbors, they volunteer at soup kitchens, food banks and other charities.
The tradition of religious pluralism, a defining feature of U.S. democracy introduced in the 18th century, is alive and well in the 21st.
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