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Religion in the U.S.

2015.12.07

From early colonial days, when some English and German settlers came in search of religious freedom, America has been profoundly influenced by religion.[5] That influence continues in American culture, social life, and politics.[6] Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by settlers who wished to practice their own religion within a community of like-minded people: the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by English Puritans (Congregationalists), Pennsylvania by British Quakers, Maryland by English Catholics, and Virginia by English Anglicans. Despite these, and as a result of intervening religious strife and preference in England[7] the Plantation Act 1740 would set official policy for new immigrants coming to British America until the American Revolution.

The text of the First Amendment to the country's Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It guarantees the free exercise of religion while also preventing the government from establishing a state religion. However the states were not bound by the provision and as late as the 1830s Massachusetts provided tax money to local Congregational churches.[8] The Supreme Court since the 1940s has interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as applying the First Amendment to the state and local governments.

President John Adams and a unanimous Senate endorsed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797 that stated: ""the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."[9]

According to a 2002 survey by the Pew forum, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that religion plays an important role in their lives, compared to 33% in Great Britain, 27% in Italy, 21% in Germany, 12% in Japan and 11% in France. The survey report stated that the results showed America having a greater similarity to developing nations (where higher percentages say that religion plays an important role) than to other wealthy nations, where religion plays a minor role.[1]

In 1963, 90% of Americans claimed to be Christians while only 2% professed no religious identity.[10] In 2014, the percentage of Christians was closer to 70% with close to 23% claiming no religious identity.[2]

 

Freedom of religion

The United States federal government was the first national government to have no official state-endorsed religion.[11] However, some states had established religions in some form until the 1830s.

Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the federal government any 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. 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 them.[12]

 

Government positions

The First Amendment guarantees both the free practice of religion and the non-establishment of religion by the federal government (later court decisions have extended that prohibition to the states).[100] The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was modified in 1954 to add the phrase "under God", in order to distinguish itself from thestate atheism espoused by the Soviet Union.[101][102][103][104]

Various American presidents have often stated the importance of religion. On February 20, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism."[105] President Gerald Ford agreed with and repeated this statement in 1974.[106]

 

Religion and politics

Main article: Religion and politics in the United States

See also: Religious affiliations of Presidents of the United States and Religious affiliation in the United States Senate

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The U.S. guarantees freedom of religion, and some churches in the U.S. take strong stances on political subjects.

In August 2010, 67% of Americans said religion was losing influence, compared with 59% who said this in 2006. Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (79%), white mainline Protestants (67%), black Protestants (56%), Catholics (71%), and the religiously unaffiliated (62%) all agreed that religion was losing influence on American life; 53% of the total public said this was a bad thing, while just 10% see it as a good thing.[116]

Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and fundamentalists and black Protestants are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. Historically Catholics were heavily Democratic before the 1970s, while mainline Protestants comprised the core of theRepublican Party. Those patterns have faded away—Catholics, for example, now split about 50–50. However, white evangelicals since 1980 have made up a solidly Republican group that favors conservative candidates. Secular voters are increasingly Democratic.[117]

Only three presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics, all for the Democratic party:

·         Alfred E. Smith in presidential election of 1928 was subjected to anti-Catholic rhetoric, which seriously hurt him in the Baptist areas of the South and Lutheran areas of the Midwest, but he did well in the Catholic urban strongholds of the Northeast.

·         John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic president he would do as the Pope would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy refuted in a famous address to Protestant ministers.

·         John Kerry, a Catholic, won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In the 2004 election religion was hardly an issue, and most Catholics voted for his Protestant opponent George W. Bush.[118]

Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president.[119]

The only Jewish major party candidate was Joe Lieberman in the Gore-Lieberman campaign of 2000 (although John Kerry and Barry Goldwater both had Jewish ancestry, they were practicing Christians).

In 2006 Keith Ellison of Minnesota became the first Muslim elected to Congress; when re-enacting his swearing-in for photos, he used the copy of the Qur'an once owned by Thomas Jefferson.[120]

A Gallup poll released in 2007[121] indicated that 53% of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist as president, up from 48% in 1987 and 1999.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is Mormon and a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is the former governor of the state of Massachusetts, and his father George Romney was the governor of the state of Michigan. The Romneys were involved in Mormonism in their states and in the state of Utah.

 

Agnosticism, atheism, and humanism

A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no stated religious preferences. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing an increase from 8% of the total population in 1990 to 15% in 2008.[27] A nationwide Pew Research study published in 2008 put the figure of unaffiliated persons at 16.1%,[62] while another Pew study published in 2012 was described as placing the proportion at about 20% overall and roughly 33% for the 18–29-year-old demographic.[72]

In a 2006 nationwide poll, University of Minnesota researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who trusted them less than Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism.[73][74] However, the same study also reported that "The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one's exposure to diversity, education and political orientation – with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts."[75] Some surveys have indicated that doubts about the existence of a god were growing quickly among Americans under 30.[76]

On 24 March 2012, American atheists sponsored the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., followed by the American Atheist Convention in Bethesda, Maryland. Organizers called the estimated crowd of 8,000–10,000 the largest-ever US gathering of atheists in one place.[77]

 

Deism

In the United States, Enlightenment philosophy (which itself was heavily inspired by deist ideals) played a major role in creating the principle of religious freedom, expressed in Thomas Jefferson's letters and included in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. American Founding Fathers, or Framers of the Constitution, who were especially noted for being influenced by such philosophy of deism include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Cornelius Harnett,Gouverneur Morris, and Hugh Williamson. Their political speeches show distinct deistic influence. Other notable Founding Fathers may have been more directly deist. These include Thomas Paine, James Madison, possibly Alexander Hamilton, and Ethan Allen.[78]

 

Attendance

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Church or synagogue attendance by state (2009)

A 2013 survey reported that 31% Americans attend religious services at least weekly. It was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute with a margin of error of 2.5.[110]

In 2006, an online Harris Poll (they stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due tosampling errors, non-response, etc.; 2,010 U.S. adults were surveyed)[111] found that 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often", 9% went "once or twice a month", 21% went "a few times a year", 3% went "once a year", 22% went "less than once a year", and 18% never attend religious services.

In a 2009 Gallup International survey, 41.6% of American citizens said that they attended church or synagogue once a week or almost every week. This percentage is higher than other surveyed Western countries.[113][114] Church attendance varies considerably by state and region. The figures, updated to 2014, ranged from 51% in Utah to 17% in Vermont.

 

 

The Bible Belt

The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics, and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average. The Bible belt consists of much of the Southern United States. During the colonial period (1607–1776), the South was a stronghold of the Anglican church. Its transition to a stronghold of non-Anglican Protestantism occurred gradually over the next century as a series of religious revival movements, many associated with the Baptist denomination, gained great popularity in the region.[1]

The region is usually contrasted with the mainline Protestantism and Catholicism of the Northeastern United States, the religiously diverse Midwest and Great Lakes, the Mormon Corridor in Utah and southern Idaho, and the relatively secular Western United States. Whereas the state with the highest percentage of residents identifying as non-religious is the New England state of Vermont at 34%, in the Bible Belt state of Alabama it is just 3%.[2] Mississippi has the highest proportion of Baptists, at 75%.[2] The earliest known usage of the term "Bible belt" was by American journalist and social commentator H. L. Mencken, who in 1924 wrote in the Chicago Daily Tribune: "The old game, I suspect, is beginning to play out in the Bible belt."[3] Mencken claimed the term as his invention in 1927.[4]

 

Buckle of the Bible Belt

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This billboard near the center ofAlabama is an example of the widespread, socially acceptedproselytism in the region.

Several locations are occasionally referred to as "the Buckle of the Bible belt":

·         Abilene, Texas a city of 117,000 home to three Christian universities: the Baptist affiliated Hardin-Simmons University, the Church of Christ's Abilene Christian University, and Methodist founded McMurry University.[10]

·         Nashville, Tennessee, sometimes referred to as "the Protestant Vatican",[11] has over 700 churches,[12] several seminaries, and a number of Christian schools, colleges and universities, including Belmont UniversityTrevecca Nazarene UniversityLipscomb UniversityFree Will Baptist Bible College and American Baptist College. Nashville is the seat of the National Baptist Convention, USA, the National Association of Free Will Baptists, the Gideons International, the Gospel Music Association, and Thomas Nelson, the world's largest producer of Bibles.[13]

·         Jacksonville, North Carolina and Camp Lejeune are in a largely Southern Baptist area also known for being very politically conservative due to its large military population.

·         Springfield, Missouri is the international headquarters of the evangelical Pentecostal Protestant denomination Assemblies of God and home to their school, Evangel University.