January 4, 2013

New Congress Includes Several Religious Firsts

1

The 113th Congress welcomes the first Buddhist in the Senate and first Hindu in either chamber.

The new, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole. While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of members belonged to Protestant denominations.

Catholics have seen the biggest gains, adding seven seats, for a total of 163 and raising their share to just over 30%. Protestants and Jews experienced the biggest declines in numerical terms. Jews now hold 33 seats (6%), six fewer than in the 112th Congress. Protestants lost eight seats, though they continue to occupy about the same proportion of seats (56%) as in the 112th Congress (57%). Mormons continue to hold 15 seats (about 3%), the same as in the previous Congress.

Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Mormons each make up a greater percentage of members of Congress than they do in the general U.S. population. Due in part to recent electoral gains, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus now are represented in closer proportion to their numbers among U.S. adults.

Perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – a group sometimes collectively called the “nones.” Only one member of the new Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to data compiled primarily by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none.” Read more