Religion in the United States

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The Washington National Cathedral, located in the capital of the U.S., is one of the largest churches in the country. Often called "the national house of prayer," this Episcopal church was the setting for the funerals of former presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford as well as the 9/11 memorial service led by President George W. Bush.
The Washington National Cathedral, located in the capital of the U.S., is one of the largest churches in the country. Often called "the national house of prayer," this Episcopal church was the setting for the funerals of former presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford as well as the 9/11 memorial service led by President George W. Bush.

Religion is a significant part of the culture of the United States. The U.S. is considered one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world, with over one-hundred different religions or denominations. The United States is also one of the most religious of those countries considered to be "developed nations." According to a 2002 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the U.S. was the only developed nation in the survey where a majority of citizens reported that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives.[1].

Most Americans adhere to Christianity. According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (discussed below), 80% of the U.S. is Christian and 15% adhere to no religion or are Atheist/Agnostic. Other religions comprise 5% of the U.S. population. According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. is 78% Christian and 10% no religion, while other religions comprise 12% of the U.S. population. In descending order, the largest identified religious groups are Protestant (52%); Roman Catholic (24%); Mormon (2%); Jewish (1%); and Muslim (1%)[2].

The United States was one of the first countries in Western civilization to not have an official religion. Reflecting back on the history of religious wars in Europe, and the lack of freedom people had in choosing their own religion, the designers of the United States Constitution specifically rejected any religious test for office, and the First amendment specifically denied to the central government any power to establish religion.


[edit] History and denominations

While Roman Catholicism is the denomination to which more Americans belong than any other, most Americans can be identified as belonging to one Protestant denomination or another, though the term "Protestant" is typically too general to use in the U.S., given the diverse range of denominational, sectarian, theological, and doctrinal beliefs. Many American churches trace their roots to Europe, but a number of churches were founded in America.

[edit] Belief in God

The phrase "In God We Trust" is inscribed on U.S. currency and the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance says that the U.S. is "one nation under God." Various polls have been conducted to determine Americans' actual beliefs regarding God:

  • A 2006 online Harris Poll of 2,010 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that only 58% of those surveyed were "absolutely certain" that God exists while 6% were "absolutely certain" that God does not exist.[3] The other 36% to 38% reported that they were only "somewhat certain" or "unsure" regarding the existence of God (21% reported they were "somewhat certain that there is a God," 11% that they were "not sure whether or not there is a God," and 6% that they were "somewhat certain that there is no God"). The poll showed that an "absolute certain" belief in God increased with age: while only 43%-45% of those aged 18-29 were "absolutely certain" that God exists, 54% of those aged 30-39 were "absolutely certain" that God exists, and 63%-65% of those aged 40 and older were "absolutely certain" that God exists.
  • A 2006 CBS News Poll of 899 U.S. adults found that 82% of those surveyed believed in God, while 9% believed in "some other universal spirit or higher power," 8% believed in neither, and 1% were unsure.
  • A 2004 Newsweek Poll of 1,009 U.S. adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, found that 82% of those surveyed believed that Jesus was God or the Son of God.
  • A 2000 Newsweek Poll of 752 U.S. adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, found that 94% of those surveyed believed in God, while 4% did not and 2% were unsure.
  • A 1998 Harris Poll of 1,011 U.S. adults found that 94% of those surveyed believed in God.

[edit] Church Attendance

Gallup International indicates that 41%[4] of American citizens report they regularly attend religious services, compared to 15% of French citizens, 4% of UK citizens[5], and 25% of Israeli citizens.[citation needed]

However, these numbers are open to dispute. states, "Church attendance data in the U.S. has been checked against actual values using two different techniques. The true figures show that only about 21% of Americans and 10% of Canadians actually go to church one or more times a week. Many Americans and Canadians tell pollsters that they have gone to church even though they have not. Whether this happens in other countries, with different cultures, is difficult to predict."[6]

In, a 2006 online Harris Poll of 2,010 U.S. adults (18 and older) found that only 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. An identical survey by Harris in 2003 found that only 26% of those surveyed attended religious services "every week or more often," 11% went "once or twice a month" 19% went "a few times a year," 4% went "once a year," 16% went "less than once a year," and 25% never attend religious services. Because these polls were conducted online, it is likely that the results are more truthful, as people are more likely admit to potentially embarrassing beliefs when responding to online surveys than when talking to interviewers in telephone surveys.

[edit] Political influence

The U.S. guarantees freedom of religion and many churches in the U.S. use this freedom by taking strong stances on political subjects.
The U.S. guarantees freedom of religion and many churches in the U.S. use this freedom by taking strong stances on political subjects.

Politicians frequently discuss their religion when campaigning, and many churches and religious figures are highly politically active. However, to keep their status as tax-exempt organizations they must not officially endorse a candidate. There are Christians in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, but evangelical Christians tend to support the Republican Party whereas more secular voters support the Democratic Party.

Every President, with the exception of John F. Kennedy (a Roman Catholic), was raised in a family with affiliations with Protestant Christianity. However, many presidents have themselves had only a nominal affiliation with Protestant churches. Several early holders of the office were Deists, with at least four presidents being Unitarians, and several, such as Thomas Jefferson, having no formal affiliation at all.

Only three presidential candidates for major parties have been Catholics[7], all for the Democratic party:

  • Alfred E. Smith -- Smith, the Governor of New York, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1928. A contributing factor to Smith's defeat in the presidential election of 1928 was his Roman Catholic faith.
  • John F. Kennedy -- Kennedy, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy faced accusations that as a Catholic President he would do as the very popular Pope John XXIII would tell him to do, a charge that Kennedy managed to subdue considerably.
  • John Kerry -- Kerry, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. In the 2004 election, there was discussion about whether Kerry's beliefs as a Catholic would be relevant to the national debate on abortion, but there was no implication that his being a Catholic per se made him an undesirable candidate.

There has never been a Jewish President or Vice-President. The only Jewish candidate for either of those offices was Joe Lieberman in the Gore-Lieberman campaign of 2000, during which Lieberman's Orthodox Judaic faith was not a salient issue. Some sources indicate that Jews constitute only 1.4% of the U.S. population, although others indicate that Jews comprise as much as 2.1% of the population (a significant decline from over 3% in the 1950s).

Protestant candidates are not subjected to the same scrutiny as non-Protestants regarding their religious faith, though some critics express a concern that some Protestant candidates also would put their religious beliefs ahead of the interests of the nation. During the early part of the 21st century, more of the Protestant denominations in America (most specifically in the American South) have openly campaigned to yield more political power than its other counterparts openly campaigning for political reform to favor their causes.[citation needed] In the 2004 Presidential election, George W. Bush, a Methodist, earned a slim but clear victory over John Kerry, with the majority of Bush supporters calling for moral values largely based on religious belief.[citation needed]

See also: list of U.S. Presidential religious affiliations
See also: Religious Affiliation in the United States Senate

[edit] Religious bodies

The table below represents selected data as reported to the United States Census Bureau. It only includes the voluntary self-reported membership of religious bodies with 60,000 or more. The definition of a church member is determined by each religious body. A growing sector of the population, currently 14%, does not identify itself as a member of any religion.([8])

Religious body Year Reported Churches Reported Membership
Number of Pastors
African Methodist Episcopal Church 1999 (NA) 2,500 7,741
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 2002 3,226 1,431 3,252
American Baptist Association 1998 1,760 275 1,740
American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1998 3,800 1,507 4,145
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of North America 1998 220 65 263
Armenian Apostolic Church 1998 28 200 25
Assemblies of God 1998 11,937 2,526 18,148
Baptist Bible Fellowship International 1997 4,500 1,200 (NA)
Baptist General Conference 1998 876 141 (NA)
Baptist Missionary Association of America 1999 1,334 235 1,525
Buddhist 1990 (NA) 401 (NA)
Christian and Missionary Alliance, The 1998 1,964 346 1,629
Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) 1997 1,150 100 (NA)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1997 3,818 879 3,419
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1998 5,579 1,072 5,525
Christian Congregation, Inc., The 1998 1,438 117 1,436
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church 1983 2,340 719 (NA)
Christian Reformed Church in North America 1998 733 199 655
Church of God in Christ 1991 15,300 5,500 28,988
Church of God of Prophecy 1997 1,908 77 2,000
Church of God (Anderson, IN) 1998 2,353 234 3,034
Church of God (Cleveland, TN) 1995 6,060 753 3,121
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1997 10,811 2,561 32,433
Church of the Brethren 1997 1,095 141 827
Church of the Nazarene 1998 5,101 627 4,598
Churches of Christ 1999 15,000 1,500 14,500
Conservative Baptist Association of America 1998 1,200 200 (NA)
Community of Christ 1998 1,236 140 19,319
Coptic Orthodox Church 1992 85 180 65
Cumberland Presbyterian Church 1998 774 87 634
Episcopal Church 1996 7,390 2,365 8,131
Evangelical Covenant Church, The 1998 628 97 607
Evangelical Free Church of America, The 1995 1,224 243 1,936
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1998 10,862 5,178 9,646
Evangelical Presbyterian Church 1998 187 61 262
Free Methodist Church of North America 1998 990 73 (NA)
Full Gospel Fellowship 1999 896 275 2,070
General Association of General Baptists 1997 790 72 1,085
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches 1998 1,415 102 (NA)
U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 1996 368 82 590
Grace Gospel Fellowship 1992 128 60 160
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1998 523 1,955 596
Hinduism 1990 (NA) 227 (NA)
Independent Fundamental Churches of America 1999 659 62 (NA)
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel 1998 1,851 238 4,900
International Council of Community Churches 1998 150 250 182
International Pentecostal Holiness Church 1998 1,716 177 1,507
Jehovah's Witnesses 1999 11,064 1,040 (NA)
Judaism 1998 (NA) 6,041 (NA)
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, The 1998 6,218 2,594 5,227
Mennonite Church USA 2005 943 114 (NA)
Muslim/Islamic 1990 (NA) 527 (NA)
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches 1998 416 67 534
National Association of Free Will Baptists 1998 2,297 210 2,800
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 1987 2,500 3,500 8,000
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. 1992 33,000 8,200 32,832
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 1992 (NA) 2,500 (NA)
Old Order Amish Church 1993 898 81 3,592
Orthodox Church in America 1998 625 1,000 700
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1998 1,750 1,500 4,500
Pentecostal Church of God 1998 1,237 104 (NA)
Presbyterian Church in America 1997 1,340 280 1,642
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1998 11,260 3,575 9,390
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1995 2,000 2,500 (NA)
Reformed Church in America 1998 902 296 915
Religious Society of Friends (Conservative) 1994 1,200 104 (NA)
Roman Catholic Church 2002 19,484 66,404 (NA)
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate 1996 37 65 37
Salvation Army, The 1998 1,388 471 2,920
Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada 1986 68 67 60
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1998 4,405 840 2,454
Sikhism 1999 244 80 (NA)
Southern Baptist Convention 1998 40,870 15,729 71,520
Unitarian Universalist 1990 (NA) 502 (NA)
United Church of Christ 1998 6,017 1,421 4,317
United Methodist Church, The 1998 36,170 8,400 (NA)
Wesleyan Church, The 1998 1,590 120 1,806
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod 1997 1,240 411 1,222

[edit] The American Religious Identification Survey

Plurality religion by state, 2001. Data are unavailable for Alaska and Hawaii.
Plurality religion by state, 2001. Data are unavailable for Alaska and Hawaii.
Percentage of religion against average, 2001.
Percentage of religion against average, 2001.

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 was a random digit-dialed telephone survey of 50,281 American residential households in the continental United States. Adult respondents were asked the open-ended question, "What is your religion, if any?". Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. The religion of the spouse or partner was also asked. If the initial answer was 'Protestant' or 'Christian' further questions were asked to probe which particular denomination. About one third of the sample was asked more detailed demographic questions.

Self-Described Religious Identification of U.S. Adult Population: 1990 and 2001 [9]
All figures after adjusting for refusals to reply, which was 2.3% in 1990 and 5.4% in 2001.

U.S. Census [10]
% in
% in
in %
in %
Total Christian 88.4 81.1 -7.3 5.3
Roman Catholic 26.8 25.9 -1.0 10.6
Total non-Catholic Christian 61.5 55.2 -6.3 3.0
Baptist 19.8 17.2 -2.6 -0.4
Methodist 8.3 7.2 -1.1 -0.2
Christian - no denomination reported 4.7 7.2 2.5 75.3
Lutheran 5.3 4.9 -0.4 5.2
Presbyterian 2.9 2.8 -0.1 12.3
Protestant - no denomination reported 10.0 2.4 -7.7 -73.0
Pentecostal/Charismatic 1.9 2.2 0.4 38.1
Episcopalian/Anglican 1.8 1.8 0 13.4
Mormon/Latter Day Saints 1.5 1.4 -0.1 12.1
Churches of Christ 1.0 1.3 0.3 46.6
Non-denominational 0.1 1.3 1.2 1,176.4
Congregational/United Church of Christ 0.3 0.7 0.4 130.1
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.8 0.7 -0.1 -3.6
Assemblies of God 0.4 0.6 0.2 67.6
Evangelical 0.1 0.5 0.4 326.4
Church of God 0.3 0.5 0.2 77.8
Seventh-day Adventist 0.4 0.4 0 8.4
Eastern Orthodox 0.3 0.3 0 28.5
Other Christian (less than 0.3% each) 1.6 1.9 0.3 40.2
Total non-Christian religions 3.4 3.9 0.5 32.2
Jewish 1.8 1.4 -0.4 -9.8
Muslim 0.3 0.6 0.3 109.5
Buddhist 0.2 0.5 0.3 169.8
Hindu 0.1 0.4 0.3 237.4
Unitarian Universalist 0.3 0.3 0 25.3
Others (less than 0.07% each) 0.6 0.7 0.1 25.4
No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic 8.4 15.0 6.6 105.7

Key findings of the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey:(before adjusting for refusals to reply)[4]

  • The proportion of the adult population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001.
  • The proportion of the adult population who classify themselves as non-Christian has slightly increased from 3.3% in 1990 to 3.7% in 2001.
  • The proportion of the adult population who do not subscribe to any religious identification has increased from 8% in 1990 to over 14% in 2001.
  • The proportion of the adult population who refused to reply to the question about their religious preference has increased from 2% in 1990 to over 5% in 2001.

Other findings of the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey:

  • Nearly 20% of adults who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic report that either they or someone else in their household is a member of a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or some other religious institution.
  • Nearly 40% of respondents who identified with a religion indicated that neither they nor anyone else in their household belongs to a church or some other similar institution.
  • Despite the growing diversity nationally, some religious groups clearly occupy a dominant demographic position in particular states. For instance, Catholics are the majority of the population in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as are Mormons in Utah and Baptists in Mississippi. Catholics comprise over 40% of the population in Vermont, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey, while Baptists are over 40% of the population in several southern states such as South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.
  • Historical traces of the Bible Belt in the South and an irreligious West are still evident. Those with "no religion" constitute the largest group in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. In contrast, the percentage of adults who adhere to "no religion" is below 10% in North and South Dakota, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
  • Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and those with no religion continue to have a greater preference for the Democratic Party over the Republican—much as they did in 1990. Evangelical or Born Again Christians and Mormons are the most apt to identify as Republicans. Buddhists and those with no religion are most likely to be political independents. In keeping with their theology, Jehovah's Witnesses disavow political involvement.
  • In the 1990 and 2001 studies, the Buddhist and Muslim population appears to have the highest proportion of young adults under age thirty and the lowest percentage of females. Numerous major Christian groups have aged since 1990, most notably the Catholics, Methodists, and Lutherans. Congregationalist/United Church of Christ and Presbyterian adherents show an older age structure with three times as many over age 65 as under age 35. Baptists also have fewer young adults than they had in 1990. Among Jews the ratio of the over-65 to those under thirty has shifted from nearly even in 1990 to about 2:1 in the current study. (The survey has focused only upon adult adherents. The observations about age structure do not include the children who may be present in the household of adult adherents.)
  • The 2001 study found that of all households that contained either a married or domestic partner couple, 22% reported a mixture of religious identification amongst the couple. At the low end there are the Mormon adults who are found in mixed religion families at 12% and such other groups as Baptists, those adhering to the Churches of Christ, Assemblies of God, the Evangelicals, and those adhering to the Church of God (all at about 18%). At the high end are the Episcopalians at 42% and Buddhists at 39% living in mixed religion families. In all, about 28 million American married or otherwise "coupled" adults live in a mixed religion household.
  • Those who identify with one or another of the main religious groups are considerably more likely to be married than those who have no religion. The "no religion" group was far more likely to be either single, never married or single, living with a partner than any other group. Indeed, the "no religion" group shows the lowest incidence of marriage (just 19%) of all twenty-two groups. Those identifying with the Assemblies of God or Evangelical/Born Again Christians show the highest proportions married, 73% and 74% respectively. The percent currently divorced or separated varies considerably less, from a low of six percent (Jehovah's Witnesses) to a high of fourteen percent (Pentecostals).
  • The top three "gainers" in America's vast religious market place appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion. Looking at patterns of religious change from this perspective, the evidence points as much to the rejection of faith as to the seeking of faith among American adults. Indeed, among those who previously had no religion, just 5% report current identification with one or another of the major religions.
  • Women are more likely than men to describe their outlook as "religious." Older Americans are more likely than younger to describe their outlook as "religious." Black Americans are least likely to describe themselves as secular, Asian Americans are most likely to do so.
  • 68% of those identifying themselves as Lutheran report church membership, while only 45% of those who describe themselves as Protestant (without a specific denominational identification) report church membership. Nearly 68% of those identifying with the Assemblies of God report church membership. Church membership is reported by 59% of Catholic adults. About 53% of adults who identify their religion as Jewish or Judaism report temple or synagogue membership. Among those calling themselves Muslim or Islamic, 62% report membership in a mosque.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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