New York


Before the 1800s, Protestant sects dominated the religious life of New York, although religion did not play as large a role in the public life of New Netherland as it did in New England, with its Puritan population. The first Jews were permitted by the Dutch to settle in New Amsterdam in 1654, but their numbers remained small for the next 200 years. Both the Dutch and later the English forbade the practice of Roman Catholicism. Full religious freedom was not permitted until the constitution of 1777, and there was no Roman Catholic church in upstate New York until 1797. During the early 19th century, Presbyterian, Methodist, Universalist, Baptist, and Quaker pioneers carried their faith westward across the state. Many Protestant churches took part enthusiastically in the abolitionist movement, and the blacks who fled northward out of slavery formed their own Protestant churches and church organizations.

For Roman Catholics and Jews, the history of the 19th century is the story of successive waves of immigration: Roman Catholics first from Ireland and Germany, later from Italy and Poland, Jews first from Germany, Austria, and England, later (in vast numbers) from Russia and other Eastern European nations. The Jews who settled in New York City tended to remain there, the Roman Catholic immigrants were more dispersed throughout the state, with a large German and Eastern European group settling in Buffalo. Irish Catholics were the first group to win great political influence, but since World War II, Jews and Italian Catholics have played a leading role, especially in New York City.

As of 2000, New York had 7,550,491 Roman Catholics, representing about 39.8% of the total population. The same year, there were 1,653,870 adherents of Jewish congregations. Membership of leading Protestant denominations in included United Methodists, 403,362; Episcopalians, 201,797; Presbyterians (USA), 162,227; and Evangelical Lutherans, 169,329. About 39.6% of the population were not counted as members of any religious organization.

Because of diversified immigration, New York City has small percentages but significant numbers of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Orthodox Christians. There were about 223,968 members of Muslim congregations. Though exact membership numbers were not available, there were about 121 Buddhist congregations and 83 Hindu congregations statewide. There is also a wide variety of religious-nationalist sects and cults, including the World Community of Islam in the West, also called the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims), the Hare Krishna group, and the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.