Religion in the United 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. – First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Many of the refugees and immigrants who have built the United States of America were fleeing religious conflict, and our Founding Fathers wanted no part of established religion. Ironically, in the 227 years since that amendment was made to the Constitution, we have become one of the most religious nations on earth. The critical difference is that there is no established religion, no religion legislated to take official precedence and to benefit from tax revenues.

The majority of Americans are some variety of Christian. According to the Pew Forum, here’s the breakdown:

  • 25.4% of households identify as Evangelical Christians
  • 22.8% are Unafflilated (includes Atheists, Agnostics, and “nothing”)
  • 20.8% of households identify as Catholic
  • 14.7% identify as Mainline Protestant
  • 6.5% identify as Historically Black Protestant
  • 1.9% identify as Jewish
  • 1.6% identify as Mormon
  • 1.0% identify as Unitarians or other liberal faiths
  • 0.9% identify as Muslim
  • 0.8% identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • 0.7% identify as Buddhist
  • 0.7% identify as Hindu
  • 0.6%, when asked, respond that they “don’t know.”
  • 0.5% identify as Orthodox Christians
  • 0.4% identify as “Other Christian”
  • 0.4% identify as “New Age” including Pagan or Wiccan
  • 0.3% identify as “Other World Religions”
  • 0.3% identify as following Native American religions


I confess that I find demographic information fascinating. I got all this information from a graphic on the Pew Forum website, but instead of arranging it by belief group, I’ve listed the groups by size. Some items that interest me:

  • Jews are definitely a minority. However, there are many religious groups even smaller than ours.
  • If we sometimes feel vulnerable, how must the people in even smaller groups feel?
  • Does the Jewish community have a responsibility to make sure that those “more minor” voices are heard in national discussions?
  • Do we have a responsibility to make sure that smaller groups are protected from persecution?
  • If we took an intersectional look at this list in terms of power and audible voices in the national discussion, how would it change? How do race, class, and similar factors intersect with religion?

What do you think? What does this list say to you?


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

3 thoughts on “Religion in the United States”

  1. interesting to see the ‘numbers’. As humans we self identify with different groups and have a particular interest in the well being of the groups we associate with, most of us realizing that for any of us to be successful in living, those around us need to be successful as well so we see the bigger/universal picture as being important. So as Jews we are keen on our survival seeing that survival as being dependent on the well being and survival of other groups. Being a minority, we particularly feel the needs of other minorities. All that to say that as Jews our human interest and our Torah-based interest is in helping other minorities do well for our own well being. Our Purim tradition reflects that: we celebrate the end of Haman and our continued existence and we reach out to the impoverished with gifts of food, aiding them to overcome the odds.


  2. Since I’m not a religious professional (not clergy; not academic), I sometimes have trouble thinking about what the Pew numbers really mean. But, I am a member of a Reform congregation, and I found that Chaves’ book really clarified what religious life in America looks like. His data is a little dated now but useful if you’re like me, just one of many coasting along in congregational life. Here’s the link, and if you haven’t read it, maybe you’d like it. He’s a fine writer and a careful analyst.


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