A t a time when there is a resurgence of the notion of a "Christian" America, accompanied by a widespread antipathy to a view of this nation as a secular state, there is a growing need to recognize the importance of religious pluralism to church-state relations in the United States. While religious pluralism has never been readily welcomed in this nation's history, it has been an integral part and a distinct characteristic of America throughout its history. Moreover, religious pluralism has long been seen as both descriptive of American culture and a normative expression of American society, a clue both to the character and the freedom of religion in America.
The extraordinary diversity of religion has been one of the distinct features of this nation throughout its history. From the beginning, religious diversity characterized the colonies. French and Spanish explorations brought the Roman Catholic faith to the New World in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, English colonies were planted in the New World. Unlike the French and Spanish, English colonial authorities did not impose a pattern of religious uniformity in any of the colonies other than in Virginia. A deliberate policy of toleration on the part of the British authorities inevitably encouraged religious diversity through the English colonies, since it offered to religious dissenters of England and the Continent a greater measure of freedom in the New World than they had known in their homelands.