he fundamental American belief in individual freedom and the right of individuals to practice their own religion is at the center of religious experience in the United States. The great diversity of ethnic backgrounds has produced religious pluralism; most of the religions of the world are now practiced in the United States. Ninety percent of Americans say that they believe in God, although not all of them participate in traditional religious organizations. About 80 percent of Americans are Christians, about 2 percent are Jewish, and another 4 percent belong to other religious faiths
*uclaIslam’, Religious Preferences in the United States
Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Although the overwhelming majority of Americans are Christians, all religions make important contributions to the American
culture. There are now about as many Muslims living in the United States as there are Jews. People of Hispanic origin now make up about one-half of the Catholic church. The Asian immigrants have brought with them the traditional religions of East Asia—Daoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, as well as Buddhism. And the Native American religions are still practiced and studied today, particularly for their teachings about living in harmony with nature.
Religion has always played an important role in the history of the United States. The Catholic faith was first brought to the North American continent by the Spanish in the 1500s. For the next 300 years, Catholic missionaries and settlers from Spain and then Latin America came to what is now California and the Southwest. Many of the cities were named by these missionaries and settlers—San Francisco, Santa Fe, and San Antonio, for example. French Canadian Catholic missionaries also came with the explorers and traders from Quebec, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In the 1600s, the European settlers began establishing colonies along the east coast of North America. Although there were some Catholics, the vast majority of the European settlers were Protestants, most from England. As the new nation formed, it was the Protestant branch of the Christian faith that had the strongest effect on the development of the religious climate in the United States.