On Common Ground
The religious landscape of America is changing as immigrants from all over the world take the oath of citizenship and claim the United States as their home. From the beginning this has been a nation of religious diversity, but today it is probably the most religiously diverse nation on earth, despite its overwhelming Christian majority. The deepest reason for America's religious diversity is our fundamental commitment to religious freedom: matters of religious conscience cannot be legislated or decided by majority rule.
The more immediate reason for this new diversity, however, is the 1965 Immigration Act which changed American policy, opening the door to immigrants from many parts of the world for the first time since the 1920s. Restrictive laws going back to the first Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and culminating in the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 had severely limited immigration from some parts of the world, particularly Asia. With the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, however, America began to address the issues of discrimination in immigration policy. Robert Kennedy, supporting the 1965 act before the U.S. Congress said, “Everywhere else in our national life, we have eliminated discrimination based on national origins. Yet this system is still the foundation of our immigration law.” The 1965 act eliminated national origins quotas and opened the door again for immigration. The new post-1965 immigration has made clear for all Americans that the United States is a nation based not on race, ethnicity, or religion, but on common commitment to the democratic ideals of its Constitution.