20 Percent of Americans Don't Believe in God--So Why is Our Congress So Religious?

The new, 113th Congress that was sworn in last week may be more religiously diverse than any other session, but the body as a whole is more committed to religion than the U.S. population. New data analysis released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life bears this out.

When the new Congress gathered last week in Washington, D.C., a Hindu and a Buddhist were sworn in--a first in U.S. history. Rounding out the religious diversity in the new Congress is Kyrsten Sinema, a representative from Arizona, who is not religious at all (she doesn’t identify with the terms “non-theist, atheist or nonbeliever”).

But Congress remains more religious than Americans are. As the Pew Forum states, “perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’– a group sometimes collectively called the ‘nones.’”

Those numbers are a striking contrast to the religious beliefs of Congress. The majority of Congress remains Protestant--56 percent, to be exact. 30 percent identify as Catholic, with Mormons, Jews and other religious minorities rounding out the list. Still, the Pew Forum notes that “the proportion of Protestants in Congress has been in gradual decline for decades, and the number in the 113th Congress is lower than the number in the previous Congress (307), even if the difference in percentage terms is slight.”


 

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