December 22, 2008
New Congress Reflects Overall U.S. Religious Landscape
The religious makeup of the incoming 111th Congress roughly matches the overall American religious landscape, with overrepresentation among Jews and Mormons, according to new analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Just over half (55 percent) of House and Senate members who will take office on Jan. 6 are Protestants, compared to 51 percent of the U.S. population. The second-largest group, Catholics, make up 30 percent of lawmakers, compared to 24 percent of all Americans.
Among Protestants, Baptists lead in the House and Senate, at 12 percent, followed by Methodists (11 percent), Presbyterians (8 percent), Episcopalians (7 percent) and Lutherans (4.5 percent).
Like the nation as a whole, the proportion of mainline Protestant members in Congress has fallen in recent decades. Methodists, for example, made up nearly one in five lawmakers in 1961. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have seen similar drops, while Lutherans have remained
Catholics, meanwhile, have grown from 19 percent in 1961 -- the same year John F. Kennedy took office as the nation's first Catholic president -- to 30 percent today. Catholics make up a larger share of the Senate (37 percent) than the House (21 percent).
Jews make up 8.3 percent of the new Congress, compared to just 1.7 percent of the general population. Mormons, too, account for 2.6 percent of Congress but 1.7 percent of the general population.
The 111th Congress will see the return of two Muslims (Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana) and two Buddhists (Democrats Hank Johnson of Georgia and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii) who were all elected to the House during the 110th Congress.
The Pew analysis said no Hindu has ever been elected to Congress, although a Sikh, Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, represented California for three terms beginning in 1957. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is a professing nonbeliever; five members did not specify a religious affiliation in data collected by Congressional Quarterly.