This Week in God: Christian License Plates(?), Faith in Congress, and More

A look at religion and politics, with a faithful eye on what the religious right has been up to this week.
First up from the God Machine this week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released an interesting report yesterday, documenting the faiths of members of Congress.

Members of Congress are often accused of being out of touch with average citizens, but an examination of the religious affiliations of U.S. senators and representatives shows that, on one very basic level, Congress looks much like the rest of the country. Although a majority of the members of the new, 111th Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan. 6, are Protestants, Congress - like the nation as a whole - is much more religiously diverse than it was 50 years ago. Indeed, a comparison of the religious affiliations of the new Congress with religious demographic information from the Pew Forum's recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of over 35,000 American adults finds that some smaller religious groups, notably Catholics, Jews and Mormons, are better represented in Congress than they are in the population as a whole. However, certain other smaller religious groups, including Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus, still are somewhat underrepresented in Congress relative to their share of the U.S. population.

The study finds that there is at least one major difference between Congress and the nation as a whole: Members of Congress are much more likely than the public overall to say they are affiliated with a particular religion. Only five members of the new Congress (about 1%) did not specify a religious affiliation, according to information gathered by Congressional Quarterly and the Pew Forum, and no members specifically said they were unaffiliated. By contrast, the Landscape Survey found that individuals who are not affiliated with a particular faith make up about one-sixth (16.1%) of the adult population, making this one of the largest "religious" group in the U.S.

It's especially interesting to see how the religious makeup of Congress has changed over the last generation or two. The report noted, for example, that the total percentage of Protestants in Congress has dropped from 74.1% in 1961 to 54.7% today, while Catholic representation has nearly doubled (18.8% to 30.1%), and the percentage of Jewish members has tripled (2.3% to 8.4%). What's more, there are two Muslims and two Buddhists who began serving in Congress in 2007 -- all of whom were firsts for the institution.

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