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New exhibit at the National Museum of American History is a tribute to America’s history of religious diversity.

America is at a point where religious conflicts are at their peak. On one hand, the battle between the believers and nonbelievers is still on, with the non-believers calling for the complete separation of church and state, while the believers are fighting for their freedom to practice their faiths openly. On the other hand, Christians are trying to re-assert their position in American society, fearing that Muslims will rise in the country. Anti-Semitic attacks have risen incredibly, and the current President has been elected mainly by the support he received by conservative Christians.

At a time like this, it would be apt for the country to pause and to take a look at the country’s religious history. The “Religion in Early America” exhibit showcases how religion has evolved in the country from the time it was inhabited by European migrants, and visitors would be surprised to see that America’s history was not simply based on Puritans, Quakers, and Anglicans, but many other religions and sects as well.

“We can’t tell the story of America without telling the story of religion and we can’t answer questions about the importance of religion today without going back to earlier generations,” says Peter Manseau, curator of religion at the National Museum of American History. He points out that religion in America was not only the set of Christian denominations that migrated to the continent. “It was a much bigger picture. It was a story of many different communities with conflicting, competing beliefs, coexisting over time with greater and lesser degrees of engagement with each other,” he says.

Manseau’s observations are not wrong. The exhibits are not only made up of crosses and Bibles but also texts from Islam and Judaism. These exhibits show that America’s religious diversity is not something that is new, springing up due to current immigration, but that it has always been a part of the nations. Many African slaves that were brought to the continent were practicing Muslims, and the first Jewish place of worship was established in the 1600s!

Just as it is today, the influx of Europeans in into the “new” continent was caused by the persecution that they faced in Europe. Some of these include the Quakers and Puritans as well. Clearly, America has always been a country for religious misfits, searching for a place where they can lead lives of peace and practice their faith without fear.

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