Congress Has Grown More Religiously Diverse

December 20, 2008

Author: Brian C. Mooney

Source: The Boston Globe

Protestants still constitute a majority of the Congress of the United States, but in terms of religious beliefs, the House and Senate, just like the constituencies they represent, are more diverse than they were nearly a half-century ago, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The Pew study, called "Faith on the Hill" among members of the incoming 111th Congress, found that Catholics, Jews, and Mormons are among religious groups better represented in Congress than in the nation as a whole. The most glaring difference between the makeup of the new Congress, which will be sworn in Jan. 6, and the population is among those who are not affiliated with any religious tradition.

Only five members of the new Congress - less than one percent - "did not specify a religious affiliation, according to information gathered by Congressional Quarterly and the Pew Forum, and no members specifically said they were unaffiliated." By contrast, a recent Pew survey of more than 35,000 Americans, found that about one in six - 16.1 percent - said they are not affiliated with any faith.

Protestants make up 51.3 percent of the population and will occupy 54.7 percent of the seats in the next Congress. Among more than a dozen Protestant denominations, Baptists will be underrepresented (12.4 percent of Congress; 17.2 percent of the population). Other groups will be overrepresented: Methodists (10.7 percent of Congress; 6.2 percent of the population), Presbyterians (8.1 percent of Congress; 2.7 percent of the population), and Anglicans/Episcopalians (7.1 percent of Congress; 2.7 percent of the population).

Similarly, Catholics make up 23.9 percent of the population and 30.1 percent of the incoming Congress. Jews constitute 1.7 percent of the population and 8.4 percent of Congress, and Mormons are 1.7 percent of the population and 2.6 percent of Congress. Orthodox Christians make up .6 percent of the population and 1.3 percent of Congress.

From faiths making up less than one percent of the US population, there will be two Buddhists, two Muslims, and zero Hindus or Jehovah's Witnesses, the research showed.