Religion on Capitol Hill: What Are the Faith Backgrounds of the 113th Congress?

The religious and faith backgrounds of the 113th Congress are more diverse now than at any time in the nation’s history, with the addition of America’s first Buddhist senator and the first Hindu in the House of Representatives.

Since the birth of the nation in 1776, Congress has typically reflected the religious beliefs of the districts from which they were elected. But gone are days where the overwhelming majority of Congress was Protestant.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, with the assistance of Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call, compiled data comparing the faith breakdown of Congress to the American population and released their report on Wednesday. Here is what they found.

There are 299 Protestants in Congress, making up 56.1 percent of the Senate and the House. In comparison, 48 percent of Americans are Protestant.

Of those, 13.7 percent are Baptist, 10.9 percent are Unspecified/Other, 8.6 percent are Methodist, 8.1 percent are Presbyterian, 7.3 percent are Anglican/Episcopal and 4.3 percent are Lutheran.

The remaining 3.4 percent belong to nondenominational churches, or are Congregationalist and Christian Scientist.

One hundred sixty-three, or 30.6 percent of the body, are Catholic, 6.2 percent are Jewish and 2.8 percent are Mormon. All of these percentages are near or just slightly higher than the national average.

Interestingly, when the 87th Congress took office in 1961, 74.8 percent of the members were Protestant, 18.8 percent were Catholic, 2.3 percent were Jewish and 1.3 percent were Mormon. There were no Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim member of Congress.

When compared to the 112th Congress that ended on Jan. 2, the 113th Congress has slightly fewer Protestants and slightly more Catholics. The number of Jewish members decreased slightly from 39 to 33 while the number of Mormons in both chambers remains the same at just under 2 percent.

One of the most notable changes in the new Congress is the addition of the first Hindu member in the House. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Iraq War veteran who served on the Honolulu City and in the Hawaii state legislature, took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Bible, Torah or the Quran.

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country,” said Gabbard, after the swearing-in. “My Gita has been a tremendous source of inner peace and strength through many tough challenges in life, including being in the midst of death and turmoil while serving our country in the Middle East.”

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