American religious pluralism - An expression of american inequality

Term Paper, 2006

23 Pages, Grade: 3,0



1. Introduction

2. Religion in America
2.1 History of those who brought religion
2.2 History of those who were brought to religion

3. One nation under God
3.1 The Nation`s Religion?
3.2 The white man`s religion!

4. Religious Pluralism
4.1 Religious groups
4.1.1 Roman Catholicism
4.1.2 Judaism
4.1.3 Islam
4.1.4 Native American Religion
4.1.5 Hindu
4.1.6 Buddhism
4.2 Religious Inequality

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

America from earliest history on seemed to be a place of freedom for many people. Freedom in regard to endless space, freedom in regard to unbelievable business opportunities, but also freedom in religious terms.

America’s first settlers, the Puritans, were in search of a place where they could follow their religion in a free way, and so at first sight helped to created a place where this was possible, the United States of America. Millions of people followed them in the course of time. Religious Freedom was from earliest history one of the major pull factors that made people come to America, as it was also explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.[1]

However, since the Constitution was ratified a few hundred years have passed, and in the meantime millions of people have accepted the promise of religious freedom made by the government. Today America is a multireligious place, in which all religions should at least theoretical be equal. But its Christian roots in modern times are made more obvious than ever. So, for example, in 1954 the Pledge of Allegiance was supplemented with the phrase “under God”:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and for the

Republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.[2]

Now, although the Pledge of Allegiance is not compulsory, and nobody can be forced to use it, it is a good example of how American society and especially the government deal with religious pluralism, as they try more and more to install their religion as “the only right one”.

This paper will look on how this process developed from earliest beginnings on until today, and will also ask whether there still can be spoken of equality in religious terms in today’s America.

2. Religion in America

America on the one hand is a country with a Christian background, on the other hand no other place houses more different religious groups. Both phenomena – that of Christianity and that of religious pluralism – are rooted in Americas earliest history.

2.1 History of those “who brought religion”

Most of America’s first settlers were in search for religious freedom when they came to the country. Best known are of course the Puritans, who for a long time tried to secure the Anglican Church from Catholic influence, before wanting a total separation from it. Because they could not push through their religious beliefs in their home country England, they went to the Netherlands before they came to the U.S..

Although they knew what it meant to be persecuted for one’s religious believe, they did not accept any other beliefs and even limited religious freedom to their own members.

In banishing Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s for religious dissent and alleged threats to social order, the Puritans gained a lasting reputation for persecuting others for much the same reason they had been persecuted in England.[3]

But what in Europe would have meant possibly death, here only meant that they could move on and establish their own enterprise, in this case “Rhode Island Colony, where religious seekers were welcomed as long as good order was maintained.”[4] However, although the Puritans were often criticized for their hypocrisy in limiting people’s religious freedom, they are in historical context “rightly remembered as founders of American ideas about religious freedom (…).”[5]

Nearly at the same time religious freedom was but also a topic in other colonies.

Maryland, for example, was thought as a refuge for Catholics, that were persecuted in England.

When Maryland was opened for colonization, overt Catholic practice in England was practical illegal. Public Catholic practice could bring legal recrimination; Catholics by law were prohibited from voting, holding elected office, or attending such universities as Oxford and Cambridge.[6]

But different from the Puritans the first settlers of Maryland also allowed other religions by passing the Maryland Tolerance Act in 1649 that guaranteed religious freedom to all other Christian churches.[7]

Another example of the way religion spread in the U.S. is Pennsylvania, which William Penn wanted to make a place of religious freedom. Penn, a Quaker, who saw his own belief being prohibited in seventeenth century England

knew there were too few Quakers in England and even fewer who would come to the New World to make his colony a success. From the start he therefore advertised for others, particularly German Protestants who were also in the fringes of the religious establishment there, to come. So long as they promoted peace and order, all who acknowledged belief in God were welcome.[8]

So, a foundation for religious pluralism was at least in theory laid in earliest American history, and so was a Christian background. The Puritan tradition, “ideas and institutions functioned as powerful forces to which other religions had to adapt, or learn to resist, in order to survive.”[9] So, although one can speak of a theoretically existent pluralism, there for sure was no acceptance of other religions than of the one oneself believed in.

However, the theoretical idea of religious freedom remained important and was therefore added to the Constitution under the First Amendment in 1791.

2.2 History of those “who were brought to religion”

The men who drafted the Constitution opened the way for religious experimentation and the proliferation of new religious groups. They did not question the right of state governments to establish religious institutions or seriously entertain the idea that the United States would ever be anything other than a Christian nation.[10]

So, the white men as conqueror of the American continent, and as belonging to the superior race, from the early beginning on established his religious base, Christianity, as the religious base for the whole country.

Therefore, everybody else had to adapt to that religious base, even those that already had a religious belief.

One ethnic group to which this happened are America’s Native People. When the white men conquered America, the Native People of course had their religious believe, but their religious patterns were declared forms of paganism[11] and the major goal of the assimilation policy of the U.S. was to force Native People into Christianity. So, to break the tradition of passing religious tradition on orally in their communities, Native children were taken from their families and christianized.

An equivalent to what happened to the Native People is what happened to the African Americans, that were brought to America as slaves. Of course, they also had their believe, which again was not accepted by their oppressors. Therefore also they found their forced way into Christianity.

On these occasions white man showed what he thought of other religions and that he believed himself superior over other ethnicities as well as people of other religions.

3. One Nation under God

Two of Thomas Jefferson’s major maxims concerning religion were that religion must be “a concern purely between our God and our consciences” and that ”politics must be conducted with a wall of separation between church and state.”[12] This theoretical thought is maintained till today, but one has also to remember that in early history American democracy developed out of the managing of the central parish living, and that in those days everything was based on the religious belief and the religious community[13]. Also due to this fact is that today many Americans see their roots in Christianity and therefore consider the U.S. a Christian nation. Therefore Christianity is next to the wish for religious freedom also one of the basements of the U.S..

3.1 The Nation’s Religion?

As also seen in the previous chapters most American citizens are Protestants. All the different groups of Protestant beliefs can be summed up under two major groups:

Those of Conservative Protestants (This category is for those who said they were affiliated with the following churches: Adventists, Alliance, Baptist, Brethren, Church of Christ, Church of God, or Mennonite or who identified their churches as Charismatic, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Holiness, or Pentecostal; or those of Mainline Protestants (this designation is for those identified as Anglican, Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, or United Church as well as most Lutherans, most Presbyterians, and most Reformed).[14]


[1] Porterfield, Amanda: American Religious History. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Page 8.

2 Prätorius, Rainer: In God We Trust – Religion und Politik in den USA. München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2003. Page 12.

[3] Garber, Marjorie/ Walkowitz Rebecca (ed.): One Nation under God? Religion and American Culture. New York: Routledge, 1999. Page 5.

[4] Lippy, Charles H.: Pluralism Comes of Age. New York: M. E. Sharp, 2002. Page 5.

[5] Porterfield, Amanda (ed.): American Religious History. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Page 6.

[6] Lippy, Charles H.: Pluralism Comes of Age. New York: M. E. Sharp, 2002. Page 5.

[7] Sauter, Udo: Lexikon der amerikanischen Geschichte. München: Verlag C.H. Beck, 1997. Page 236.

[8] Lippy, Charles H.: Pluralism Comes of Age. New York: M. E. Sharp, 2002. Page 5.

[9] Porterfield, Amanda (ed.): American Religious History. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Page 7.

[10] Porterfield, Amanda (ed.): American Religious History. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Page 8.

[11] Lippy, Charles H.: Pluralism Comes of Age. New York: M. E. Sharp, 2002. Page 6.

[12] Witte, John: A page of history is worth a volume of Logic: Charting the Legal Pilgrimage of Public Religion. In: Blumhofer, Edith (ed.): Religion, Politics, and the American Experience – Reflections on Religion and American Public Life. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Page 44.

12Prätorius, Rainer: In God We Trust – Religion und Politik in den USA. München: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2003. Page 33.

[14] Noll, Mark: Evangelicals Past and Present. In: Blumhofer, Edith (ed.): Religion, Politics, and the American Experience – Reflections on Religion and American Public Life. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Page 105.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


American religious pluralism - An expression of american inequality
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
460 KB
Quote paper
Vanessa Lengert (Author), 2006, American religious pluralism - An expression of american inequality, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: American religious pluralism  -  An expression of american inequality

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free