February 3, 2011

No Religion, No Representation

Throughout its history, Congress has been far from representative of the nation as whole in many ways. In 2011, one large segment of the population, the roughly 16% of Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion, remains completely unrepresented on Capitol Hill. Not one of the 435 members of the House of Representatives or one of the 100 senators serving in the 112th Congress lists his or her religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” Six members, however, do not specify a religious affiliation, which is similar to the percentage of the public that says they don’t know or refuses to specify their faith. Rep. Pete Stark has said he is an atheist, but he identifies his religion as Unitarian, and is counted in this Pew Forum analysis in the “Other Faiths” category. If he were counted, instead, as an atheist and added to the six members in the “Don’t know/Refused” category, the portion of members of Congress who either do not specify a faith or are unaffiliated with any particular faith would still be about 1%. Overall, the 112th Congress is majority Protestant (Baptists and Methodists are the largest denominations) and about a quarter Catholic. Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Jews are among the few religions that have greater numerical representation in Congress than in the general population. Read More