Religion in the U.S.

USA er et meget mere religiøst land end Danmark. Modsat Danmark har USA ikke en statskirke, men en masse forskellige private kirker fordelt ud over næsten alle verdens religioner. Langt størstedelen af amerikanerne tror på gud og næsten alle følger en eller anden variant af Kristendommen.

De mange kirker spiller en stor rolle i mange amerikaneres dagligdag. Meget af det man som dansker forventer at staten eller kommunen tager sig af, bliver tit gjort af kirker i USA. Det kan f.eks. være hjælp til hjemløse, drift af skoler eller hospitaler eller organisering af sportsaktiviteter.

I afsnittene herunder kan du læse om den rolle religion spiller i USA.

Almost all the world’s religions are practiced today in the United States. The American tradition of religious tolerance and constitutional safeguards for freedom of worship has made religious life in the United States one of most diverse and vibrant in the world. In a study by the 2008 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 78 percent of the more than 35,500 respondents classified themselves as Christian, 5 percent belonged to other faiths, and 16 percent were not affiliated with a specific religion. Members of evangelical Protestant churches constitute the largest religious group in the United States (26 percent of the population), followed by Catholics (24 percent) and mainline Protestants (18 percent).

The original Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the United States. The original Pledge read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” The Pledge was updated in 1923, 1924, and 1954 and now reads, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

National Motto

The national motto, In God We Trust first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin. The motto was then used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate.

Sitting in Saturday school at age 10, John Mesirow began to disagree with what he had been taught throughout the early years of his childhood. The more he listened, the less it made sense. “People are responsible for their own actions,” he said. “To try to blame things on God or take comfort in God seemed irrational to me.”

Though he went through a bar mitzvah and another Jewish ritual of confirmation, the world of religion remained illogical and ambiguous to Mesirow. “I like things to make sense,” Mesirow, now an attorney in Washington, said.

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released in two parts in February and June by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Mesirow is one of 28 percent of U.S. adults who “have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all,” and he is one of 1.6 percent of U.S. adults who describe themselves as atheist.

The survey results indicate that people who are not affiliated with any particular religion make up 16.1 percent of the adult U.S. population and constitute the fourth largest “religious” tradition in the United States. Within that group, beliefs about the notion of God are diverse.  One-fourth describe themselves as atheistic or agnostic, and the rest describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (although half of this latter group say religion is either somewhat or very important in their lives, despite their lack of a specific affiliation).

Flexibility of American Attitudes

A critical finding of the extensive survey, based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans, is that 70 percent of Americans agree that theirs is not the only way to believe.

Tasnim McCormick Benhalim could not agree more. Raised in a close-knit, “deeply spiritual” Christian Protestant Methodist family in the small town of Mahomet, Texas, near Austin, she began to ask a lot of questions about religion at a young age. “I wanted to know about God. I asked my parents. I asked my Sunday school teachers. I even tried to talk to my friends about it.”

Her interest continued in high school, where she read about many religious topics, including mysticism, American Indian rituals and the Baha’i faith. In college at the University of Oklahoma, she took comparative religion courses, studied Islam and Hinduism and read works of the poet Rumi, who founded the Sufi order of Islam.

It was then that an Islamic professor told her that Sufism “is really the heart of Islam.” Benhalim at the time said that she did not want to be a Muslim, and told her family that she would not convert, “but I kept meeting and studying,” she said.

Benhalim became more absorbed in the teachings of Islam and keeping the prayers. Five years after graduating from college, she converted from Protestant Christian to Muslim.

According to the Pew Forum survey, she had followed another trend. Results from the survey indicate that the proportion of the U.S. population that is Protestant has declined markedly in recent decades. Protestants account for roughly half (51.3 percent) of the adult population. According to the survey summary, “the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country.”

Keeping an Open Mind

Neither Mesirow nor Benhalim has experienced criticism for changing their religious beliefs.

“My parents were not pleased, but they were not un-pleased,” Benhalim said. “They were not surprised.” Her family has remained close, she said. Her parents were supportive of her marriage to a Muslim and “adore our children.”

As they learned more about Islam, Benhalim said, her  family concluded that “our beliefs around God are parallel, even though the practices differ.” Between Islam and Christianity, “the nature of God and life and why we are walking on Earth have real points of agreement, but we respect each other’s differences.”

Benhalim, who operates, a consulting firm that helps businesses implement diversity initiatives, believes her children and others of their generation do not carry the same cultural blinders as did earlier generations. When her son invites friends to visit, “I see a little United Nations walking through my door.”

Mesirow said he openly discusses his beliefs with friends and family if the subject comes up, and he encourages his two children to read about and discuss religion and decide for themselves what works for them. “I am open-minded about it. Religion does help a lot of people.”

Religious affiliation among U.S. residents can best be described as “diverse and extremely fluid,” according to a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey queried more than 35,500 adults age 18 and older living in the United States. It was conducted by telephone in 2007 in both English and Spanish.

The goal was to examine the religious makeup of American society — not only the size of various religious groups, including the smallest ones, but also demographic characteristics, social and political values, religious practices and shifting religious affiliations.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, added that the survey — published in February 2008 — will contribute to “a better understanding of the very important role religion plays in the private, personal and also the public lives of most Americans.”

More than three-fourths of those surveyed classify themselves as Christian, 5 percent belong to other faiths, and 16 percent are not affiliated with a specific religion.

Members of evangelical Protestant churches constitute the largest religious tradition in the United States (26 percent of the population), followed by Catholics (24 percent) and mainline Protestants (18 percent).

Movement Among Religions

With more than 28 percent of American adults leaving the faith of their childhoods to practice another religion — or no religion — the survey confirmed that “a remarkable amount of movement” is occurring.

Such movement is evident in the Protestant community. Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults surveyed identify themselves as Protestant — a significant decline from 65 percent two decades ago, as reported in the General Social Surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

As a result, the Pew Forum concludes that Protestants are on the verge of becoming a minority among religious groups in the United States.

Catholicism has held steady over the past two decades, but that statistic obscures dramatic shifts as well. According to the survey, “Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.” However, such losses were offset by the number of Catholics who immigrated to the United States.

The remaining Christian groups (3 percent of the population) include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Orthodox (evenly divided between Greek and Russian Orthodox), and others.

Impact of Immigrants

Immigration is “contributing in a major way to the changes in the American religious landscape,” notes the Landscape Survey. Some 61 percent of immigrants are from Latin America and the Caribbean, with half of these from Mexico alone.  Nearly three-fourths of Mexican immigrants and half of other Latin American immigrants are Catholic. This helps explain why one-fourth of U.S. Catholics are foreign born.

New arrivals are bringing other religious traditions to America as well. Immigrants are “disproportionately represented among several world religions in the United States, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism,” the survey found.

  • Father Ruben Rios, a native of Argentina, walks behind altar boys during the concluding procession at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Phoenix. Rios is among a number of Latin American clergy serving the growing Hispanic population in the United States. Among U.S. Hispanics, 58 percent are Catholic.

Muslims, of whom two-thirds are immigrants, account for roughly 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the survey. Hindus are 0.4 percent of the population, with 86 percent born elsewhere. (By contrast, three fourths of Buddhists are native-born; many are converts from other faiths. They constitute 0.7 percent of the population.)

The survey found that Hindus, Muslims and members of Christian Orthodox churches are the groups most heavily comprised of immigrants.

Diversity Within Religious Groups

There also is considerable diversity within religious traditions. Among Protestants, about half are evangelicals, one-third belong to mainline churches (Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) and 13 percent attend historically black churches.

In the survey, 1.7 percent identify themselves as Jewish, with Reform Judaism leading the way followed by Conservative and Orthodox Judaism.

Among U.S. Muslims, Sunnis make up half of the total, while the rest are Shiites and those who do not specify a denomination.

Buddhists, too, emerge with a number of distinct categories: Zen Buddhism, Theravada and Tibetan, among others.

Other factors like age, race and geography also influence the religious landscape. For example, mainline Protestants and Jews generally are older, while people not affiliated with a particular religion are younger. Immigrants more often are Catholic, while native-born Americans are more likely to be Protestant.

Blacks are the group most likely to report a religious affiliation. More than three-fourths are Protestant.

Protestants have a slight edge (53 percent) among non-Hispanic whites, but Catholics predominate among Hispanics (58 percent).  Asians are more divided, with 27 percent Protestant, 17 percent Catholic and 53 percent other religions or unaffiliated.

Looking at geography, the Southern United States has the highest percentage of Protestants, particularly evangelicals, while the Northeast has the highest percentage of Jews, Catholics, Hindus and Muslims. The West has the most Buddhists.

No Religious Affiliation

One of the most interesting findings in the Landscape Survey is the growing number of American adults (16 percent) who do not belong to any particular religious group. Through the 1980s, this group accounted for only 5 to 8 percent of the population.

The unaffiliated group is “quite diverse” and “it is simply not accurate to describe this entire group as nonreligious,” the survey states. About one-fourth identify themselves as atheist or agnostic (4 percent of the total adult population). The rest describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (12 percent of the adult population). While half of these respondents say religion is “not important” in their lives, the others say it is “somewhat” or “very important,” even though they do not chose to be affiliated with a religious group.

The Pew Forum plans to issue another report based on the Religious Landscape Survey that will examine religious beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of believers and nonbelievers.

For more information on religious diversity in the United States, see Diversity-At Worship.

The complete U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (PDF 1 MB) is available on the Pew Forum Web site.

This is part of a US Department of State essay entitled, “Principles of Democracy.” These bullet points make up a concrete definition of the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion”.

All citizens should be free to follow their conscience in matters of religious faith. Freedom of religion includes the right to worship alone or with others, in public or private, and to participate in religious observance, practice, and teaching without fear of persecution from government or other groups in society.

  • All people have the right to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes.
  • Like other fundamental human rights, religious freedom is not created or granted by the state, but all states should protect it. Democracies include language pertaining to protection of religious freedom in their constitutions.
  • Although many democracies may choose to recognize an official separation of church and state, the values of government and religion are not in fundamental conflict.
  • Democracies generally do not create governmental agencies or other official bodies to regulate religious affairs, although they may require houses of worship and religious groups to register for administrative or tax purposes.
  • Governments that protect religious freedom for all their citizens are more likely to protect other rights necessary for religious freedom, such as free speech and assembly.
  • Genuine democracies recognize that individual religious differences must be respected and that a key role of government is to protect religious choice, even in cases where the state sanctions a particular religious faith. Democracies also:
  • Do not determine the content of religious publications, education, or sermons.
  • Respect the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.
  • Prohibit incitement of religious-based violence against others.
  • Protect members of ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities.
  • Allow people to observe days of rest associated with their faith and to celebrate holy days in accordance with their beliefs.
  • Allow interfaith movements to flourish, as members of different faiths seek common ground on various issues and cooperate to solve challenges facing the entire population.
  • Provide the freedom for government and religious officials, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists to investigate reports of religious persecution.
  • Respect the right of religious organizations to freely participate and contribute to civil society – to operate faith-based schools, run hospitals and care for the aged, and create other programs and activities that benefit the society. asked five experts including Suzanne Nossel: Is it possible to protect religious freedom without limiting free speech?

The early January life-threatening attack on a Danish cartoonist who had penned satiric drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and the decision, a month earlier, of Swiss voters to ban the construction of new minarets on mosques in their country bring into focus a simmering international debate on the relationship between freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

In a U.S. context, we tend to see these two sets of rights as intertwined: A core element of the right to speak one’s mind includes the ability to espouse and practice whatever religious beliefs one chooses. Debates over theological differences have been a vibrant part of the American marketplace of ideas since the time of the Pilgrims, and our Constitution’s First Amendment enshrines free speech as a core value.

But what’s intuitive to us at home is not the prevailing view at the United Nations. Over the last decade, we have witnessed a campaign to attempt to counter religious hatred through bans on speech under the rubric of prohibitions on the “defamation of religions.” This effort has taken root in a series of resolutions at the U.N.’s General Assembly in New York and its Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Some U.N. member states supportive of these resolutions are banding together to try to impose a global ban on offensive speech in the form of a binding instrument under international law. The irony of this effort is that the concept of “defamation of religion” has been used to crack down on religious minorities that espouse beliefs deemed by the State to defame a national or majority-supported religion. Moreover, many of the countries that support the defamation of religion apply the concept to protect one religion only, and are — within their own countries — accepting of hostile language and acts that target minority faiths.

These contradictions demonstrate that the drive to impose a global ban on offensive speech will not protect members of all religions on an equal basis, as U.N. resolutions and international legal norms must do. Nor will they address the specific and legitimate concerns about the treatment and mistreatment of Muslim minorities globally. Concerns about the treatment of Muslim minorities warrant concerted action on the international stage, but through steps and measures that actually work, rather than bans on free speech.

The United States has worked strenuously to oppose defamation-based approaches on the basis that they are inconsistent with fundamental freedoms of speech and expressions, including the values endorsed by U.N. member states through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As an alternative to the efforts that would ban speech in order to prohibit “defamation of religion,” we are proposing to achieve the goal of promoting religious pluralism and acceptance of religious difference through the kinds of steps that we have seen be effective in our own country and across the globe: enactment and enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination; bans on hate crimes; education, training and dialogue to promote religious tolerance. We will be working in the coming months in the hope that countries can come together behind concrete measures that, without interfering with freedom of speech or opinion, will improve the lives of religious minorities worldwide.

Suzanne Nossel joined the Bureau of International Organization Affairs as deputy assistant secretary of state on August 31, 2009. Prior to assuming this position, Nossel was chief operating officer for Human Rights Watch. From 1999 to 2001, she served as deputy to Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and during that period was the lead U.S. representative in the U.N.’s General Assembly in negotiations to settle U.S. arrears.

After leaving government service, Nossel served as vice president of U.S. business development at Bertelsmann Media Worldwide. She subsequently joined the Wall Street Journal as vice president of strategy and operations.

She has written extensively on foreign policy topics, and has significant international affairs experience, including working on South Africa’s National Peace Accord and monitoring elections and human rights conditions in Bosnia and Kosovo. She is the author of a 2003 Foreign Affairs article entitled “Smart Power.”