Congress Looks Like the People

January 5, 2009

Author: Luis Lugo

Source: USA Today

Congress is often accused of being out of touch with the American people. But when it comes to religious affiliation, the new Congress that will be sworn in Tuesday is quite diverse, much like the population that the members represent.

An analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that the religious makeup of the 111th Congress generally reflects the religious composition of the country, though by no means in identical proportion. The analysis also shows that over the past 50 years, the ranks of Protestants on Capitol Hill have declined markedly, just as the Protestant share of the overall U.S. population has decreased sharply in recent decades.

In at least one major respect, however, Congress differs from the nation as a whole: Members of Congress are much more likely than the general public to report a religious affiliation. Whether these elected officials are more faithful or simply recognize the value of appearing to be faithful is unclear, but what's unmistakable is that the nation's elected representatives are closely linked to organized religion.

Only five members of the new Congress (of 535 members) do not specify a religious affiliation, and no members specifically say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, people who are not affiliated with a particular faith now comprise about one-sixth of American adults, making this one of the largest and the fastest-growing segments of the population, according to Pew Forum surveys.

The overall findings, though, show a national legislature that broadly reflects the country's religious diversity: