We’ve already noted the historic diversity of the new members of Congress, but what about Congress as a whole – particularly in terms of religious diversity?
The good news is that Congress is making strides toward reflecting the vibrant religious diversity of the U.S. population. The bad news is that Congress still has a ways to go.
Congress is still overwhelmingly Christian: about 88 percent, or 471 of the combined 534 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, identify as Christian, according to Pew Research Center. (Pew didn’t count the disputed Republican winner of a controversial House election in North Carolina because candidate Mark Harris’ campaign is under investigation for voter fraud. If seated, Harris will add to the number of Christians; he’s a Southern Baptist pastor.)
While Christianity is still the majority faith in the U.S., its representation in Congress far outpaces its adherents among the general public. Pew estimates that about 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian.
The diverse new members of Congress reduced the total percentage of Christians by 3 points. The next largest faith group represented in Congress is Judaism, with 34 total members. Several new Jewish members ticked the total number of Jews in Congress up by about a percentage point, to 6.4 percent.
Although Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) became the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, the total number of Muslims in Congress only grew by one because former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) didn’t seek re-election. Omar and Tlaib join Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) as the only three Muslim members of Congress. They make up just less than 1 percent of Congress, which is comparable to the total population of Muslims in the U.S., according to Pew.
Other religious minorities in Congress identified by Pew include Hindus (three members, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Ro Khanna of California and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois); Buddhists (two members, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia) and Unitarian Universalists (two members, Reps. Ami Bera and Judy Chu of California). All of these religious minority members are Democrats.
It is the secular and religiously unaffiliated population of America that is most underrepresented in Congress. Although nearly a quarter of Americans identify as a “nones,” Pew identified only one member of Congress as religiously unaffiliated: new Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is also Arizona’s first LGBTQ senator.
Rewire has reported at least seven other new members of Congress may be religiously unaffiliated, which would bring the number to eight total. But at 1.5 percent, that’s still well shy of the 23 percent of nones in America. Pew reports there are 18 members of Congress, or about 3.5 percent, who either refused to say or have not reported their religious affiliation. Even if all of those members end up being nones, that still falls short of adequately representing religiously unaffiliated Americans.
One religious group whose congressional representation over the years has shrunk dramatically is Protestants. According to Pew, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox Christians along with religious minorities and those whose religion isn’t known have chipped away at the dominance Protestants have held in Congress. There are about 100 fewer Protestants in Congress now than there were in the early 1960s. The percentage of Protestants in Congress – about 55 percent – is now closer to the percentage of Protestants in America, about 48 percent.
I’m fond of Rep. Omar’s quote in response to an anti-Muslim troll that “[T]he floor of Congress is going to look like America.” We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer.
(PHOTO: New members of the 116th Congress. Credit: Screenshot from CNN.)