The rise of a new religious America

AP Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, right, congratulates candidate Tulsi Gabbard after both women won their Hawaii Congressional district seats on Nov. … Continued


Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, right, congratulates candidate Tulsi Gabbard after both women won their Hawaii Congressional district seats on Nov. 6, 2012, at the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu.

The first Hindu elected to the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, will take the oath of office in a few weeks – and she has chosen to place her hand on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of her tradition.

Meanwhile, the woman she replaces in Congress, Mazie Hirono, will be sworn in as the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate.

Welcome to the new religious America.

Religious diversity, of course, has long been part of the American landscape. But in 2012, religious minorities became newly visible and vocal in a society historically dominated by the symbols, values and leaders of the Protestant faith.

Now that Protestants are no longer in the majority – as reported in a study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in October – even the term “religious minority” will need fresh definition in our newly minted minority-majority nation.

View Photo Gallery: After a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin leaves six dead, Sikhs and their supporters mourn while the nation learns more about the gunman’s ties to the white supremacy movement.

The election of Gabbard and Hirono are just two of many recent signals that demographic shifts and changing attitudes are rapidly transforming America’s increasingly crowded public square.

Consider, for example, that for the first time in our history, none of the presidential or vice presidential candidates of either major party was a white Protestant.

Even more remarkable, the Mormon candidate not only received nearly half of the popular vote, but Mitt Romney was supported in large numbers by many evangelical voters that polls previously told us would not vote for a Mormon.

Religious affiliation (or lack of affiliation) is still a factor in public life, but the level of voter acceptance of candidates affiliated with historically unelectable faiths is growing.

When Congress convenes in January, significant numbers of politicians from groups with long histories of discrimination in America – notably Jews, Catholics and Mormons – will fill both chambers, many in leadership positions.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the current U.S. Supreme Court is made up of six Catholic and three Jewish justices and – another first – no Protestant.

Not surprisingly, there has been some backlash and resentment from those who don’t like the changing religious face of America – or who fear a falling away from the “Christian nation” they believe we are intended to be.

In 2012, American Muslims continued to be prime targets of both resentment and fear with debates in many state legislatures over anti-shariah bills and protests in many communities over the building of mosques.

The most tragic religious-bias incident occurred on Aug. 6 when a white supremacist gunman attacked a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (perhaps in the mistaken belief that Sikhs are Muslims), killing six and wounding four.

But 2012 was also the year that American Muslims joined by many interfaith coalitions pushed back, defeating or stalling anti-shariah legislation in a number of states and defeating several anti-Muslim candidates at the ballot box, including Florida Congressman Allen West.

The growing visibility and strength of America’s religious diversity is good news for religious freedom. The First Amendment affords legal protections, but it cannot fully prevent people in the majority from imposing social discrimination and political exclusion on those in the minority.

As James Madison argued at our nation’s founding, religious freedom is best secured in a society of many faiths and beliefs – with none in the majority.

“For where there is such a variety of sects,” wrote Madison, “there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.”

Religious diversity, in other words, helps level the playing field, giving people of all faiths and none freedom to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

In religion, as in economics, monopolies stifle growth and innovation. That’s why the end of the Protestant hegemony in America will be no loss for religious people of any tradition, including Protestants.

On the contrary, as domination of one faith recedes, freedom for all faiths and beliefs expands – moving us ever-closer to fulfilling the promise of religious liberty under the First Amendment.

View Photo Gallery: Millions of Muslims make the annual hajj pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca this week. The hajj is one of Islam’s greatest observances, and Muslims who are able are required to perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

Charles C. Haynes  is senior scholar at the  
Freedom Forum First Amendment Center 
 and director of the
 Religious Freedom Education Project 
at the

 in Washington.

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  • newbigtech

    I must agree .. Most Churches will do anything for a dollar.

    We were discussing this at Breakfast after church. THe pastor says he is going to start coming down hard on the MEN members that do not GIVE, PARTICIPATE or help during the year…

    He lost a few more members after services.

    Churches are a place to gather and worship / or agree on the same beliefs…. They are there if you want them..
    As an ex catholic, who studied the GREED and authority driven money and power of the church from 300AD to Present.. You see that what most churches do , is the equivalent to what they preach against…

    Look at where that got Rev. Schuler in California.. Look at the Real Estate and Money brought in to the churches and how they harp on facts, that they gave 1.5 Million to Charities , but now are in distress because they are 500 K short to make the Mortgage payments on the church…

    What I am saying is that.. Belief and positive prayer do work…But so do Management of funds… And the understanding.. “WE ALL CANT BE THE United STATES government and Print more money when Needed

  • chaos1551

    But what does it mean for Christmas? Is the fact the federal offices close Dec. 25 a violation of the Establishment Clause? What is going to happen to my Christmas?!?


    The evolution faith movement taught to our kids in schools as gospel is the largest religion I would argue! It teaches our kids they’re all animals and to act like animals if it feels good (moral relativity)! Secularization of church and state has done us no favors-turn on the news! Expect more of the same!

  • itsthedax

    And you believe that our children would be best served by teaching them religious texts instead of science? How’s that working out in Afghanistan?


    There is evidence for evolution.

    There is no evidence for your “faith”.

    Have a nice time on the dust heap of history!

  • MrNirom1

    Where is the missing link? All these years and science has still let us down.


    Where are Adam and Eve’s bones?

  • Vote Yes Scotland 2014

    So we all worried about the demise of bees when wasps were really the endangered ones .

  • 4blazek

    Like all “holidays” is is merely a commercial event…

  • Davoud

    If it were up to me you would celebrate “your” Christmas any way you want to — so long as you did it in private. Do not fear, however; so long as Christmas is a valuable commercial commodity, it will still be celebrated for two months out of each year.

  • janzvolens

    Watch the Pentacostal “industry” among the rapid growing Latino population! The Pentacostals are racing like a Tsunami over Latin America, parts of Africa, and among the Latinos in the U.S. The big loser is the Catholic Church. In Brazil the Pentacostals have become a political force. See youtube Video IGREJA PENTACOSTAL FOGO PURO …

  • Catken1

    “Where is the missing link? All these years and science has still let us down. ”

    Yeah! We keep finding missing link after missing link – and each one only reveals two more, one on either side!

    Nonsense. We’re never going to find an unbroken chain of daughter-mother-grandmother-etc. fossils going all the way back to the dawn of time, we don’t expect to, and even if we did, creationists would whine that we’ve no way of knowing that they weren’t all magicked into the earth last Wednesday by a prankster deity trying to trick us all into hellfire.

    We do have, however, a great many links in a great many evolutionary chains – from hippo-like artiodactyls to whales, from raptor dinosaurs to birds, and yes, from an ape-like ancestor to us. We find new ones all the time. The “missing link” is a myth.

  • Channah

    It is about time! There has been too much bigotry in this country toward anyone who is not the lilly white Christian. The huge mixtures of race, faiths, and cultures is what makes this country so bueatiful. Now, it is time for everyone to see this.

  • perryneheum

    OF COURSE, “religion” in all its forms is mankind’s great divider.

    But we promise not to bring this up again for another, oh, five years.

  • citizen625

    The business of religion uses tax exempt status to buy airplanes and mansions and servants and shopping centers in Salt Lake City. Tax ’em. Oh yeah, then they use their tax exempt earnings to pay to buy-off politicians who give our tax dollars to religion schools. Sort of like Saudi Arabia. Take the napkins off the heads of all people.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    Will the ancient Aztec Religion make a comeback??? Will guv’mint sponsored atheistic consequence free hedonism advance to first place as The Religion of America? What will be the future of Obama Worship as our Lord and Savior in the public schools?? Exciting new diversities of mutually exclusive spritiualities as we all move Forward into the Brave New World.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    I don’t think our modern culture is entirely consequence free. Take this post for example, a categorical failure in terms of punctuation, content, humor, sarcasm, etc. I think that in the realm of ideas you paid a very real price for deciding to post this magnum opus; you let people know how seriously they should take your opinion on this matter, and you opened yourself up to well-deserved ridicule. This is an example of secular justice hard at work.

  • williambellah

    Evolution is a reality, the only problem is it’s “scientific theory” that is constantly changing. The theory of evolution comes out of the Bible. Gen. 1 ver 20, the evolutionist just removes the Creator” from the text. You would think the evolutionist could at least come up with an original theory.


    Micro evolution ya, macro nope! The evolution faith movement taught to our kids as gospel with your tax dollars is a National disgrace! Secularization of church and state has done us no favors-turn on the news!


    The missing links are still missing and macro evolution is intellectually dishonest-no brainer now! The latest from this group is we all came from aliens-anything but God! They like sin!

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    XVIIHailSkins – Thank ya’ll for your reply.
    Oh, I didn’t say we currently have consequence free hedonism yet. That is a Federal government goal. It seems to be the national promoted religion. Abortion is a consequence free solution to religious orgies in the name of open moarals free hedonism. It is good for public school school girls since they are handing out birth control pills in high school to them. High school boys are given free grab bag condoms in the class room. Sex education is included and sexual orientating being a major part of high school curriculum. All these being the formation of a religious world view concerning an amoral universe created by the Big Bang as science.
    Magnum opus??? Nay good Sir, tis not my finest work. A mere bagatelle of a comment. A touch of light nthought. Perhaps from a limited capacity perspective it became a magnum opus for you alone.
    Ridicule? For what? We have the La Raza crowd who claim true ownership of most of the land west of the Mississippi river and claim to be Hispanic tribal descendents of Aztlan which existed for 40,000 as a utopia of American Hispanics until robbed of their land and empire from people from Europe. Thus we see rising the renewed worship among them, in the USA and Mesico, of Santa Muerte worship which is tracable back to the Aztecs. In the past three years, drug trafficking suspects arrested have been found to have Santisima Muerte shrines in their homes or backyards.
    Santa Muerte can be traced back to pre-Christian beliefs of the Aztec God of Death. In Mexico they find people placed alive into a 55 gallon drum with a few steel rods welded across the openeing and they are soaked with gasoline and burned alive before Santa Muerte altars. In fact the optimal Santa Muerte altar consists of a human skull upon the altar. The skulls are obtained by desecrating Christian grave yards in Mexico.
    Secular Justice??? Never heard of it. There is just Justice, eternal and unchanging.

  • itsthedax

    Yep, those pesky scientists just keep learning, don’t they! I’m sure you’d feel better if they’d just “believe” what they’re supposed to, and stop learning new stuff! Because when they learn new things, they actually refine their theories. Sometimes they even disprove existing theories, and publish new knowledge of the universe.

    Of course, in your world, anything learned since the iron age is absolutely false, and we were much better off before we had science.


    The residents of Judea in Jesus’ time weren’t Iron Age – they weren’t even Bronze Age. They were Late Paleolithic at best. Basically cave men.

  • BobLoblaws

    Hate based intolerance, justified by religious principles, fundamentally contributes to the polorization of America.

  • mljr

    @Dixie Sue,

    Thanks for proving to WaPo readers that ignorant Southern rednecks are alive and well.

    Keep spreading the word.

  • DJMonet

    The only reason Chrstmas is celebrated on december 25 is to align with the european pagan celebration of the solstice.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    mljr – Thank ya’ll for your reply and ya’ll is quite welcome I am sure.
    However, ya’ll is makin a presuppositional error by assumin I am ignorant. Another is that I do not have a red neck. I ahve a lovely neck unmarred by sun, or any injury.
    Now if ya’ll doesn’t like facts concernin the worship of Santa Muerte as it is appearin in the USA is one thing. But it would be ignorance and denial of facts to reject it. The information is easily obtainable from the internet and assorted news sources. For example, the El Paso, Texas Times just choosin a news story at random concernin Santa Muerte.
    The Death Cult of the Drug Lords
    Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed is dispossessed: Santa Muerte alive in El Paso/Juarez
    El Paso Times/Times wire, staff reports /Posted: 03/29/2009
    Quote–NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — Officials in Nuevo Laredo have destroyed more than 35 statues dedicated to a “Death Saint” popular with drug traffickers.
    The statues, most depicting a robe-covered skeleton resembling the Grim Reaper, lined highways and roads in and around the Mexican city across the border from Laredo, Texas. One of the statues was located at the base of an international bridge linking Mexico and the U.S.—
    Quote—-According to devotees of ‘Saint Death,’ the Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed has been gaining popularity across the Mexico / U.S. border including the El Paso / Juarez border because people are disillusioned with traditional Catholicism.—
    Quote—The Death Saint, which has become popular among organized crime figures in Mexico, is believed to make miracles happen, like praying for someone to die, because she does not distinguish between good and evil practitioners. —
    Now ya’ll might not like that news story. But are ya’ll going to deny it is not happening?
    Have a nice day.

  • mljr

    @Dixie Sue,

    Why should I care what invisible entities (God, angels, aliens, demons or “Death Saints”) other people believe in? Who cares?

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    mljr – Thank ya’ll for your reply.
    Quote—Why should I care what invisible entities (God, angels, aliens, demons or “Death Saints”) other people believe in? Who cares—
    Well among other things they believe in human sacrifice. If you are human you are an elgible candidate for their religious worship services. Among other things they believe in decapitation to obtain skulls to raise the Death Saint for their religious services. If you have ahuman skiull it becomes elgible for becoming an accutrement to their religious worship. Thises thoughts apply not only to you, but to your friends, relations, children, and all other parties which you may know. A minor evcent perhaps in your eyes but one I would consider significant. I do not wish to be burned alive in gasoline in a 55 gallon drum before a altar to Santa Muerte. A pesonal point of avoidence. You might enjoy it for all I know and volunteer.

  • lufrank1

    “On the contrary, as domination of one faith recedes, freedom for all faiths and beliefs expands – moving us ever-closer to fulfilling the promise of religious liberty under the First Amendment.”

    But UNFORTUNATELY the Supreme Court IS dominated by a Single Religion. Scallia, especially dominated.

  • lufrank1

    NOTICE NOTICE…..the “Pro-Life” Label is inaccurate. It’s members SHOULD (to be truthful and accurate) Label their group as the “Pro-Birth” group………….they Obviously don’t care what happens to babies AFTER birth!
    Sad FAct!

  • Raptoraddict

    Well put, thanks.

  • Raptoraddict

    Bingo, as long as they are in the womb, they are precious. As soon as they hit the ground they are worthless scum.

    Jesus, I love the religious fanatics….

  • Raptoraddict

    How can you possibly have religious freedom when the GOP continously screams about America being a “Christian Nation”? Not very tolerant are they?

  • WigglyWeasel

    Dont forget the fake “War on Christmas!”

  • leibowde84

    That’s a weird thing to say, SODDI. If you think that Socrates (alive well before Jesus and living not far away) was not a fully evolved human being, you are nuts.

  • jsabol

    Now leibowde84….you’re linking a polytheist and philosopher to Jesus….careful, least those fanatic lightning bolts strike you where the sun don’t sun…..

  • bflorhodes

    Whatever. Enjoy your made-up hell if you vote Republican.

  • larryclyons

    BTW dixie, treaties take precedence over court cases according to the constitution. Therefore since the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli quite uncategorically states that the US is not a Christian nation, this clause takes precedence.

    BTW Article 11 reads:
    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

  • larryclyons

    Catken1 – you just cannot argue against such massive ignorance. The sheer weight of DRJJ’s willful ignorance precludes any logic and reason seeping in.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    larryclyons – Thank ya’ll for your reply.
    The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitan War or the Barbary Coast War, was the first of two wars fought between the United States and the Northwest African Berber Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary States. These were Tripoli and Algiers, which were quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire, and the independent Sultanate of Morocco.
    From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.

  • stephan2wolf

    It isn’t wise to fight somebody due to his different faith. No human gets judged by Allah because of what he blelieves or not believes. There are some fundamental things which are binding like Monotheism, life after death, in short: All the things which are common in all three religions which are based on divine revealation.

    But the details are less important. More important are the deeds and especially the motivations, the acting is based on. Humans can do everything they can do with or without guilt, crucial is the motivation. Everything, a human does out of love is good and most evil things are done out of self-interest.

    When humans leave this world, the faith is getting cleared, everybody will know anyway, what the truth in heaven is. Everybody will know and Allah is judging between the groups. So the faith isn’t absolute and mustn’t result in animosity against other groups with different faith.

    Those who are using Religion as justification for violence are acting out of hatred and they are misusing and misinterpreting Religion for their own fights. They are creating violence, unrest and insecurity. All this is judged in the Koran very clearly.


    The Greeks were a Bronze Age civilization that was conquered by the Romans, an Iron Age culture.

    The Hebrews were neither. Until their contacts with superior Bronze Age cultures like the Egyptians, there is no indication that the Hebrews mined, smelted or formed metals of any kind.

    Mythically, David killed Goliath with a sling. Samson killed some dude with the jawbone of a donkey (WaPo won’t let me use the correct word.) Bone weapons and rock-hurling slings are Paleolithic weapons – Late Stone Age.

    No shame in that. Most of the planet was probably Paleolithic in 0 BC. The North American Indians remained pretty much Paleolithic until their extended contacts with the Europeans. The Mesoamerican and South American civilizations were Paleolithic.

    There are still small pockets of humans who prefer to live a Paleolithic lifestyle today. They’re just not demanding that we live by their rules and holy books.

  • Catken1

    Got any actual evidence or rational thought behind your rejection of evolution, DRJJJ? Or is it just, “This contradicts my pet myth! I can’t be moral without my pet myth! I must therefore deny this and reject all facts associated with it, lest everyone else be as amoral as me without fear of eternal punishment to motivate them!”

  • Catken1

    “The missing links are still missing ”

    So is any evidence whatsoever for your god, the descent of all humans from only two ancestors magicked into existence 6000 years ago, the sudden emergence at that time of all living animal species (and apparently the hasty burying of a lot of faked fossils by your prankster deity), your flood, any boat that could carry two of all living species (or perhaps two of some and seven of others, based on ritual cleanliness, depending on which version of the story you read), etc., etc., etc.

    What we’ve got, sadly, is a bunch of idiot creationists yelling the same nonsense over and over at the top of their lungs, as if repetition and volume made a patently ridiculous assertion true.

  • Bill1776

    God destroyed Israel several times because they went after other gods.

  • Bill1776

    Allah is a false moon god.


    Secularization of church and state and the evolution faith movement sure hasn’t worked-see all social & financial data and turn on the news! Only God!

  • Nerdyboy312

    thats dumb we are not cristion but did we get destriyed no

  • Nerdyboy312