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10.7A: Religion in the U.S.

  • Page ID
    50151
  • Due to the First Amendment, which grants freedom of religion, there is a diversity of religious beliefs and practices in the U.S.

    Learning Objectives

    • Discuss the relationship between religion and government in the United States

    Key Points

    • The First Amendment specifically denies the Federal Government the power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference.
    • European Rationalist and Protestant ideals influenced the development of separation between state and religious affairs.
    • The majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively.

    Key Terms

    • First Amendment: The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
    • Religious Organization: Religious activities generally need some infrastructure to be conducted. For this reason, there generally exist religion-supporting organizations, which are some form of organization that manage the upkeep of places of worship, e.g., mosques, prayer rooms, other similar edifices or meeting places, and the payment of salaries to priests, ministers, or religious leaders. In addition, such organizations usually have other responsibilities, such as the formation, nomination, or appointment of religious leaders; the establishment of a corpus of doctrine; the disciplining of priests or other people with respect to religious law; and the determination of qualification for membership.
    • creed: That which is believed; accepted doctrine, especially religious; a particular set of beliefs; any summary of principles or opinions professed or adhered to.

    Religion in the United States is characterized by both a diversity of religious beliefs and practices, and by a high adherence level. A wide variety of religious choices have been available to the U.S. population due to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which allows freedom of religion.

    Separation of Church and State in the United States

    The framers of the Constitution modeled the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and rejected any religious test for office. The First Amendment specifically denies the Federal Government the power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. This amendment protects any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent their beliefs.

    Robert N. Bellah has argued that although the separation of church and state is grounded firmly in the Constitution of the United States, this does not mean that there is no religious dimension in the political society of the United States. He used the term “civil religion” to describe the specific relation between politics and religion in the United States. His 1967 article, “Civil religion in America,” analyzes the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy: “Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word ‘God’ at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension. ”

    Robert S. Wood has argued that the United States is a model for the world in terms of how a separation of church and state—no state-run or state-established church—is good for both the church and the state, allowing a variety of religions to flourish. Speaking at the Toronto-based Center for New Religions, Wood said that the freedom of conscience and assembly allowed under such a system has led to a “remarkable religiosity” in the United States that isn’t present in other industrialized nations. Wood believes that the United States operates on “a sort of civic religion,” which includes a generally shared belief in a creator who “expects better of us.” Beyond that, individuals are free to decide how they want to believe and fill in their own creeds and express their conscience. He calls this approach the “genius of religious sentiment in the United States. ”

    Religious Affiliation in the United States

    The majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively, according to one survey by Trinity College. Non-Christian religions (including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) collectively make up about 5% of the adult population. Another 15% of the adult population claims no religious affiliation. When asked, about 5.2% said they did not know or refused to reply. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West, with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate is in the South (the “Bible Belt”) at 86%.

    imageIslamic Center: Islamic Center of Washington located at 2551 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.