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Faith & Religion

Faith & Religion in the U.S.

Freedoms and Responsibilities in Religious Life

The U.S. is known for its varied and diverse cultural and religious landscape, and though it is considered a secular society, religion plays an important role, both historically and in the present. By far the most popular of organized religions is Christianity however people of a wide variety of religions and faiths (including atheists and those of no faith) have the freedom to pursue their beliefs under their First Amendment Rights to Freedom of Religion.

Below is a closer look at religion and faith in the U.S. today and how it might impact you and your business.

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Europeans who settled in America in the 16th and 17th Centuries often did so because they were searching for religious freedom. A range of different groups settled in the U.S. bringing with them diverse religions and denominations. These included Puritans, Anglicans, Catholics and Quakers.

During the 1700’s the Protestant religion became more popular and with it a great increase in the number of people attending church. Since these times Protestantism has had a large influence on religion in the U.S.

Over a period of 400 years, Protestant groups continued to grow and split off into different groups, leading to a diverse range of types of Christianity. These include:

  • Baptists
  • Methodists
  • Lutherans
  • Presbyterians
  • Episcopalians
  • Congregationalists
  • The Disciples of Christ
  • Seventh Day Adventists
  • Quakers
  • Mennonites

The U.S. was the first nation to have no state-endorsed religion after the First Amendment was signed.

It states: “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.”

Today, while Christianity is the largest organized religion, there is a huge range of religions and faiths, from large mainstream religions to smaller cult groups. Although many Americans are strongly religious, the vast majority are moderate. Some areas of the U.S. are considered to be broadly more religious than others, with southern states in the so-called “Bible Belt” being the most religious.

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Types of Religion and Religious Climate  

Although Christianity is popular in the U.S. all of the other major world religions are represented. WorldAtlas found that nearly half (46.5%) of residents identify as Protestant Christians. 22.8% of people were not affiliated with any religion.

Catholics made up 22.8%, Jewish religion 1.9%, Other Non-Christian 1.8%, Mormon 1.6%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.8%, Buddhists 0.7%, Hindus 0.7%. According to Pew Research, 1.1% of people in America are Muslims, with this figure expected to become the second largest religion behind Christianity by 2050.

In general, the South is considered to be the most religiously conservative area in the U.S. (it is referred to as the “bible belt”), and the West Coast is seen as being more liberal. Large urban areas such as New York are considered progressive. It’s interesting to note that 48% of people who describe themselves as “highly religious” also say they approve of President Trump.

According to Pew Research the most religious states in the U.S are:

  1. Alabama
  2. Mississippi
  3. Tennessee
  4. Louisiana
  5. Arkansas
  6. South Carolina
  7. West Virginia
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina

And the most secular are:

  1. Massachusetts and New Hampshire (tied for least religious/most secular state in the USA)
  2. Vermont and Maine (tied)
  3. Connecticut
  4. Wisconsin, Alaska, and Washington (tied)
  5. New York

Colorado and Hawaii (tied)

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Religion & the Law   

All religious individuals and groups are protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees religious liberty or freedom of conscience for people of all faith or none. The Establishment Clause prevents the government from either advancing or inhibiting religion with the aim that the government remains neutral on religious and faith-based matters.

The Free Excise Clause and additional supporting laws (such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act) protects the rights of individuals and institutions to follow their conscience in matters of faith. Under the Free Excise Clause, the government may not enact laws or regulations that target religious practice without demonstrating a compelling state interest and that there is not a less restrictive way of accomplishing that interest.

Religious Discrimination Laws

In the U.S. it is against the law for an employer to discriminate against a person (applicant or employee) based on their religious beliefs or practices. This includes traditional religious (such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam) but also applies to sincerely held moral, ethical and religious beliefs.

The law prohibits religious discrimination in all aspects of employment, from hiring to firing, pay, promotions, training and others, and employers must not harass a person because of their religion.

Businesses are also expected to make reasonable provision for people to carry out their religious beliefs or practices, providing it would not cause more than a minimal burden on business operations.

If you intend to expand your business in the U.S. with employees it’s important that you understand your obligations under Religious Discrimination Laws.

For more information refer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

LGBT rights and Same-Sex Marriage

The political and cultural landscape has been changing when it comes to LGBT rights and the law as they relate to religious or faith-based concerns such as same-sex marriage and providing services to people who fall into the LGBT bracket.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, in general attitudes are changing within the U.S. A Gallup survey in 2018 found that over two-thirds of Americans now back same-sex marriage, the highest number in 20 years. This comes hot off the heels of same-sex marriage being made legal nationwide, after a Supreme Court ruling in 2015.

In recent years, however, some states have enacted “Religious Liberty” laws that may impact people within the LGBT community. Examples of this include a bill passed in Florida which allows clergy and religious organizations to refuse to marry people if this violates their “sincerely held religious belief,” and a bill passed in Mississippi that allows businesses to refuse service to gay couples based on religious beliefs. Depending on where in the U.S. you wish to settle it’s worth researching the most up to date laws if these kinds of bills might impact you personally or professionally.

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Notable Religious Places  

Although the U.S. is considered to be fairly young in terms of its history it has a range of religious and faith-based buildings and monuments that attract high levels of visitors each year. These include buildings with beautiful architecture, or housing historically significant religious artifacts and items.

America also has some buildings and temples from uncommon religions such as the Bahá’í House of Worship, Wilmette, Illinois – the only Bahá’í temple in North America.

Other notable religious places to visit include:

The Temple Emanu-El in New York – One of the largest Jewish temples in the world, with a sanctuary that stands at 103 Feet tall, 100 Feet wide and 175 feet long. It can house 2,500 people and boasts incredible decor and architecture.

Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah – A Neo-Gothic style Mormon temple which was dedicated in 1893 and took 40 years to build. It attracts nearly 3 million visitors per year. Although only temple recommended Mormons can actually go inside, there is a visitors centre and the architecture and size (five floors and six spires – the tallest over 210 feet) make it well worth a visit.

St. Patricks Cathedral, New York City – A Neo-gothic church with an elaborate marble facade and colorful stained glass windows. The church is open daily and welcomes visitors.

Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky – A 70,000 sqft facility dedicated to biblical history with a two storey museum and outdoor gardens. The museum shows off scriptural history and has over 160 exhibits. There is also a Zoo, bookstore and 3-D cinema within the center.

Sikh Gurdwara, San Jose, California – The largest Sikh temple in the U.S., founded in 1984. It runs a range of programs throughout the week from morning, evening and weekend programs to Sunday Khalsa School.

Maui Dharma Center, Paia, Hawaii – A center for the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, with daily classes and meditation sessions and talks. At the entrance to the center is the  Peace Stupa,  Consecrated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2007. The Stupa and center aim to serve as symbols of peace and unity. The center welcomes visitors and practitioners of all faiths and religions.

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