Religion: To Believe or Not To Believe? Religion in America has not always been like it is now. It took decades for America to be in the place that it is currently in today as far as religious freedom. Religious freedom was once for certain religious groups and citizens like European Christians but now it is a universal right enjoyed by Americans of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. America has changed a lot and one will notice that change throughout this paper. There will be three different time periods that will be talked about in this paper. Those three time periods are the sixteenth century, nineteenth century, and the present. In these different time periods, the reader will be able to understand and see the changes in religion during the different time periods. Also, the reader will be giving general knowledge about the different religions in America. After discussion both time periods, the reader will get a chance to then read about how religion in America is now currently, therefore they will be able to compare and contrast each time period after reading this paper. Religion is known to be the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Now, is it mandatory that one has to have a religion? No. Religion in the United States of America started when the Europeans from the English of the eighteenth century to Italian settlers of the mid-twentieth century came to America to escape religious oppression and forced beliefs by the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant church of England. Since people did not have the freedom to believe in any religion they wanted, this is a humongous reason why the Europeans decided to come to America. In his CNN article entitled “Was America founded as a Christian nation, ” Mark Edwards talks about religion starting in America and relates it to politics. He states, “Jefferson explained his support for religious freedom in practical terms: “(I)t does me no injury for my neighbor to believe in twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Edwards 123). Religious freedom was a major reason why so many people moved to America because in a lot of places in the world religious freedom was not a given. Religion delineates the code of conduct for living a meaningful and satisfying life. The United States of America is known for being a big melting pot of different cultures. There are about several main religions in the US, such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The United States is on the verge of becoming a nation in which Protestants are a minority. A growing portion of Americans identify themselves as unaffiliated with any religious tradition, and a small but increasingly significant number say they are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Orthodox Christian. In her article called “Americans Rate Religious Groups, and Most Gain, Including Muslims,” Laurie Goodstein talks about religious groups in America and it also states statistics of the different religions in America. Goodstein states “The religious groups that ranked highest, as they did three years ago, were Jews (67 percent) and Catholics (66 percent). Mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, who were measured for the first time, came in at 65 percent. Buddhists rose on the scale to 60 percent from 53, Hindus to 58 from 50, and Mormons to 54 from 48” (Goodstein). Giving a general knowledge about the different religions in America, the first religion Christianity is the most popular religion in America. Christianity is one of the major religions in this world. Christianity is the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Most followers of Christianity, called Christians, are members of one of three major groups–Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox. These groups have different beliefs about Jesus and his teachings. However, all consider Jesus the center of their religion. In a poll on ABC news, it states “Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians”. In an article on The Heritage Foundation called “Did America have a Christian founding” by Mark David Hall, it states “One possibility is simply that the Founders identified themselves as Christians. Clearly, they did. In 1776, every European American, with the exception of about 2,500 Jews, identified himself or herself as a Christian. Moreover, approximately 98 percent of the colonists were Protestants, with the remaining 1.9 percent being Roman Catholics” (Hall). While reading about the other religions, keep in mind that the founders were briefly stated. The next religion that is mentioned in Islam because it is another popular world religion. Islam is stated as being the third largest religion in the United States. Islam is a religion founded by prophet Muhammad. A Muslim is a person who follows Islam. In an article called “Islam in America” on PBS, it states “What is clear is the makeup of the first real wave of Muslims in the United States: African slaves of whom 10 to 15 percent were said to be Muslims. Maintaining their religion was difficult and many were forcibly converted to Christianity” (PBS). Because the slaves that were brought in America secretly continued to practice Islam, we now still have Islam as a religion in America. In Besheer Mohamed article on Pew Research Center called “A new estimate of the US Muslim population” there are statistics on Muslims in America. It states ” Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015. This means that Muslims made up about 1% of the total US population (about 322 million people in 2015), and we estimate that that share will double by 2050″(Mohamed). This time period was before religious freedom was a guaranteed right for all people in America. There are other reasons why Islam is in America such as later immigrants brought it over with them. Islam is not always popular in modern America due to 9/11. On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was brought down due to Al-Qaeda attacks. Those were the darkest days for the family and friends of the victims and also for Muslims all around the world. Because of this, Islam has been looked upon as something horrible since it was involved in a terrorist attack. The Muslim population is rapidly growing in America. With all of the terrorist attacks that have been happening, Islam is now looked upon as something horrible when that is not truly the case. The next religion discussed is also rapidly growing in America, this religion is Judaism. Judaism is the fastest growing religion in America. The majority of Americas’ Jewish community is Ashkenazi which means that they are Jews that can trace their ancestry to Germany and Eastern Europe. In Joellyn Zollman article called “Jewish Immigration to America: Three waves,” it states, “Jews left Germany because of persecution, restrictive laws, economic hardship, and the failure of movements”(Zollman). It also states “Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to the United States in large numbers after 1880. Pushed out of Europe by overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty, they were pulled toward America by the prospect of financial and social advancement”(Zollman). One of the reasons why Jewish people fled to America is because of World War II. A lot of Jewish people fled the Nazis and escaped to America. In an article called “Jews in America: By the numbers” it gives statistics of Jews in America. It states, “Pew Research Center estimates 5.3 million Jews live in the United States, approximately 2.2 percent of the U.S adult population” (Jews in America). Judaism is one of many religions that came from immigrants migrating to America. The next two religions that also came from another country and made their way to the US are Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism came to the United States with emissaries and immigrants from India. In the article “So, How Many Hindus Are There in the Us” it gives statistics about not only Hinduism in America but also Hinduism in other places in the world. In the article, it states “ARIS concluded that 0.4% of America’s population, or about 1.2 million people in 2008, are Hindus”(How Many Hindus Are in the Us). ARIS stands for American Religious Identification Survey. Buddhism in America can be traced all the way back to the nineteenth century when Chinese immigrants moved to America. There are three major branches of Buddhism: Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, and Vajrayana/Tibetan Buddhism. In a research study on Pew Research Center, it states that there are 3.9 million Buddhists in America. In Justin Whitakers’ article on patheos.com called “Buddhist in America,” it gives the reader a ton of statistics on Buddhism in the world, but especially in American. One statistic that is stated in the article is “One source put the total number of practicing Buddhists at around one million in 1990, but another at 5 or 6 million only a few years later” (Whitaker). Another statistic from the article states “Martin Baumann of Germany suggested in 1997 that there were 3 or 4 million Buddhists in the United States, the most in any western country” (Whitaker). With knowledge about the five out of six religions that are talked about in this paper, lastly will be Protestantism. Finally, Protestantism is the second largest form of Christianity. Its definition is “the faith, practice, and church order of the Protestant churches”. In John Feas’ article on Oxford Research Encyclopedia called “Protestantism in America” it states “The theological and religious descendants of the Protestant Reformation arrived in the United States in the early 17th century, shaped American culture in the 18th century, grew dramatically in the 19th century, and continued to be the guardians of American religious life in the 20th century” (Fea). In a Religious Landscape Study on Pew Research Center, their statistics state “more than half of US adults (51.3%) identified as Protestants. But that figure has fallen, and our 2014 study found that 46.5% of Americans are now Protestants” (Pew Research Center). Now the one has knowledge about all of the six religions, one will now start to learn about religion in America in the different time periods as stated in the introductory paragraph. Religion was very important to the early settlers and it was an important part of everyday life in colonial America. A lot of times people were not allowed to question what they were taught and if they did they would be punished with no hesitation. A lot of the early settlers came from Europe to flee the persecution that was happening. These early settlers are called Puritans. In early America, there were not any religious freedom laws like there are now, so people did not have a choice of choosing what religion they wanted to practice. In fact, there were strict laws that enforced harsh religious observation. In an article called “Religion in Colonial America: Trends, Regulations, and Beliefs” it states “Eight of the thirteen British colonies had official, or “established,” churches, and in those colonies dissenters who sought to practice or proselytize a different version of Christianity or a non-Christian faith was sometimes persecuted” (Religion in Colonial America). The Revolutionary War and the passing of the Bill of Rights are a few of the reasons why religious freedom exists in America. Given this information about religion in America in the sixteenth century, the reader can now begin reading about religion in America during the nineteenth century. One problem that was occurring during the nineteenth century in America was areas where ones’ faith was already existing and the dominant faith in that community, new religious beliefs would be seen as unfaithful and troublesome to the community. In the article “Religion in Colonial America: Trends, Regulations, and Beliefs,” it states “As the seventeenth and eighteenth century passed on, however, the Protestant wing of Christianity constantly gave birth to new movements, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians and many more, sometimes referred to as “Dissenters” (Religion in Colonial America). During the nineteenth century in America was when more and more immigrants of different religious backgrounds started to come. There were now Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhist, that have arrived in America between the 1840’s and 1920’s. Even with all of these different religions in America, there were far more Catholics. In Julie Byrnes article called Roman Catholics and Immigration in Nineteenth-Century America, it states “In 1850 Catholics made up only five percent of the total US population. By 1906, they made up seventeen percent of the total population (14 million out of 82 million people)—and constituted the single largest religious denomination in the country” (Byrnes). Now with knowledge about both the sixteenth and nineteenth century, lastly discussed will be religion in America presently. Different religions in America are more accepted now than they used to be. There are now laws to help ensure that there is and will always be religious freedom in America. The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment guarantee religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, for all Americans — people of all faiths and none. The Free Exercise Clause and supporting laws, like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protect the right of religious individuals and institutions to follow their conscience in matters of faith. In the book “What is the truth about American Muslims?” it is a question and answers online pdf about Muslims and religion in America. One interesting quote found was “The United States is today the most religiously diverse society in the world. The civic framework of religious freedom defined by the First Amendment enables people of all faiths and none to live together as equal citizens of one nation” (What is the truth about American Muslims). Because of all the laws that we have currently, it would take another major revolution in political power before the United States goes back to being intolerant of other religions. What exactly is a religion? Which religions are mostly found in the United States of America? How did religion even get started in the United States of America? If you ask 100 people what they think the definition of religion is, you will get 100 different answers. If one googles the definition of religion it will state “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs” (Dictionary). This essay investigates the history of religions in the United States, going back to the eighteenth century with the establishment of America and leading up to the current post-9/11 era, and shows that our nation represents a wide range of religious beliefs that have informed the social and political fabric of our national identity.