In a modern democratic society, the expression of one’s religious beliefs is one of the most significant and valued tenets of the society. In a land where the law states that one can pursue their religious preferences in an environment of peace and acceptance, it should be paramount that the state will protect that right. But does that mean that a country, like the United States, the bastion of democracy, has always practiced that tenet? Or has the religious pluralism event just been added to it? Has the United States always been practising religious pluralism as a country?
Religious Pluralism in the United States
In the immediate history of the United States, immigrants came from different shores to find a new life in the young nation. Most of these immigrants carried with them their religious beliefs, with the assurance that they will be able to practice their religious preferences in complete security, without fear of persecution. Many foreigners looking at the structure of religion in the United States are keenly looking at a very interesting scenario in the country (Boston College). Many people would observe the high levels of profession in the Christian faith while a hedonism-based culture exists with it side-by-side (Boston).
Even in the profession of many Christians in the Christian doctrine would not be complete as a statement alone (Boston). In their profession of Christian belief, more than a hundred denominations that identify themselves as Christian are known to exist, and no singular entity would be correct in assuming a monopoly of Christianity (Boston). Apart from Christians, many religions have gained a foothold in the culture and history of the United States.
Religious Pluralism: Concepts and antonyms
In the advent of many global political events, the concept of religious pluralism is that the phenomenon has spread throughout the political landscape of the United States (Thomas Banchoff, 2007). Coupled with the immigration increase, the downfall of the doctrine of Communism and the ever-increasing development of communication has spawned the establishment of an array of religious beliefs in the democratic setting (Banchoff, 2007). But what exactly is the definition of religious pluralism? If there is one, how can it be framed in the proper context?
There are many concepts that can find its identity in religious pluralism, though all work around the central notion of a symbiosis of many religious beliefs (Jessica Ellis, 2008). Some use the term pluralism synonymous with the term religious tolerance, though the wto digress in their definitions (Ellis, 2008). Tolerance can be defined in the practice of an individual of their own beliefs without fear of condemnation or need for consonance to some standard or norm in society (Ellis, 2008). It would be saying that one Deity, God Himself, created all types of religions as to articulate better with other peoples (Ellis, 2008). If one would consider themselves as participants in the practice of religious pluralism, then it can be said that these individuals have taken their set of beliefs from a number of religious backgrounds and homogenized them for their own set of religious practices (Ellis, 2008).
But though it can be said that the practice of pluralism in the United States is alive and well, the discussion lies in the treatment of what the majority believes and what is considered as minority beliefs (Mary Segers & Ted Jelen, 1998). The practice of what is termed “mainstream religions” is accorded many appananges while the minority beliefs receive few if any at all (Segers & Jelen, 1998). Some would use the existence of this pluralism as an argument for the right of religious freedom and the separation of powers as enshrined in the United States Constitution (Segers & Jelen, 1998). But as many have noted, society in the United States is more inclined in the fact of accepting a person on the basis of ethnic background rather than religious pluralism’s sake (Segers & Jelen, 1998).
Issues against the cause of religious pluralism are that, with the presence of an assortment of religious pursuits, the incidence of religious strife will be high, hence renewed calls for religious tolerance (Segers & Jelen, 1998). But does it mean that the increase in the diversity of other religious beliefs would undermine democratic principles? It is the argument that religious pluralism improves the quality of democracy in the United States (Segers & Jelen, 1998). It improves democracy in a three-fold manner-it improves the base of representation in a democracy, it bestows moral values to the citizenry and equips them with the required social skills in a society (Segers & Jelen, 1998).
In the United States, the history of the country was born of a people’s need to practice their own religion and accept others’ way of worshipping God (Boston). But it cannot be said that the United States was always tolerant of other people’s religious practices (Boston). In its history, Americans have not been always a proponent of the concept of religious pluralism (Boston). What was the standard then in the colonial past in the young United States was the establishment of a religion, not the plurality of religion (Boston).
Some of the countries colonies had established their way of worship (Boston). For example, Massachusetts Puritans controlled the religious and social conduct of life, and were intolerant of other forms of religious practice (Boston). But did the framers of the fundamental law of the United States intended to make one religion, Christianity in this case, as the predominant religion of the young nation (Liberty, 2007)? Alexander Hamilton, saw fit to add the qualification of able men of the Christian religion, as to move the transformation of the political process along Christian tenets (Liberty, 2007). The founding Fathers had the insight not to adopt the narrow view of Hamilton, in the wake of migrants from the Continent of a wave of people with differing religious backgrounds (Liberty, 2007).
The Founding Fathers, acknowledged that these people, though of different religious pursuits, were subject to persecutions from the religious wars prevalent on the continent (Liberty, 2007). This they applied and enshrined in the fundamental law top separate the church from the ambit of the state (Liberty, 2007). So it can be said that the United States is still within the confines of the definition of a secular state (Liberty, 2007). The laws of the nation are still non-belligerent towards the practice of any religion, creed or practice, without favor to any entity of religious nature (Liberty, 2007).
Banchoff, T.H. (2007). Democracy and the new religious pluralism. Oxfordshire, England: Oxford University Press.
Boston College. (n.d.). Religious pluralism in the United States. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from
Ellis, J. (2008). What is religious pluralism? Retrieved November 10, 2008, from
Liberty Magazine. (2007, September/October). Religious pluralism and America’s Christian nation debate. Liberty Magazine.
Segers, M.C., Jelen, T.G. (1998). A Wall of Separation? Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.