Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

116th Congress more religiously diverse

Vol. 36 No. 01 Jan/Feb 2019
Congressional makeup                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The 116th Congress, sworn in on Jan. 3, is more religiously diverse than any prior Congress, although it still has Christian over-representation, according to the Pew Research Center.

While there is a 3-percentage-point decline in the share of members of Congress who identify as Christian, 88 percent now claim to be Christian, while just 57 percent of the United Stated population is currently Christian.

There are four more Jewish members, one additional Muslim and one more Unitarian Universalist in the new Congress, as well as eight more members who decline to state their religious affiliation (or lack thereof).

The religious makeup of Congress is very different from that of the population. 

The largest difference between the public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group. In the general public, 23 percent say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” In Congress, just one person — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was recently elected to the Senate after three terms in the House — says she is religiously unaffiliated, making the share of “Nones” in Congress 0.2 percent. 

Rep. Jared Huffman also says he is openly agnotic, but did not fill out the survey.When asked about their religious affiliation, a growing number of members of Congress decline to specify. This group — all Democrats — includes 18 members, or 3 percent of Congress, up from 10 members in the 115th Congress. One member in this category, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., announced in 2017 that he identifies as a humanist and says he is not sure God exists. 

Anglicans/Episcopalians and Presbyterians experienced the largest losses in the 116th Congress, which has nine fewer members in each of these groups compared with the previous Congress. 

Methodists, Congregationalists, Restorationists and Christian Scientists also lost at least one seat; there are no longer any Christian Scientists in Congress. 

There are five fewer Catholics and three fewer Mormons in the new Congress. 

In the 116th Congress, just two of the 252 GOP members do not identify as Christian: Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and David Kustoff, R-Tenn., are Jewish.

By contrast, 61 of the 282 Democrats do not identify as Christian. More than half of the 61 are Jewish (32), and 18 decline to specify a religious affiliation.