The first European settlement in Rhode Island was founded by an English clergyman, Roger Williams, who left Massachusetts to find freedom of worship. The Rhode Island Charter of 1663 proclaimed that a "flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments." Rhode Island has maintained this viewpoint throughout its history, and has long been a model of religious pluralism. The first Baptist congregation in the United States was established in 1638 in Providence. In Newport stands the oldest synagogue (1763) and the oldest Quaker meetinghouse (1699) in the United States.
A majority of the population of Rhode Island is Catholic, reflecting heavy immigration from Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and French Canada. In 2000, there were 542,244 Roman Catholics, accounting for 51.7% of the total state population. The largest Protestant denominations were Episcopalians, with 26,756 adherents, and American Baptists USA, with 20,997. An estimated 16,10 Jews resided in the state the same in 2000, as did about 1,827 Muslims. Friends–USA (Quakers) had only 599 members. About 36.5% of the population were not counted as members of any religious organization.