Faith on the Hill

Changing Profile of Congress Members’ Religious Affiliations

A recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study shows that in terms of religious affiliation, Congress looks like the rest of the country. Although a majority of the members of the new, 111th Congress are Protestants, like the nation, the body is more religiously diverse than it was 50 years ago. One major difference is that members of Congress are more likely than the general public to declare their affiliation with a particular religion.

While both houses share a similar religious profile, differences show up at the party level. Just over 70 percent of congressional Republicans are Protestant, compared with 43 percent of Democrats. The portion of Democratic members who are Catholic, about 37 percent, outstrips the Republicans, at 21 percent. Jews account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. adult population, but make up more than 8 percent of Congress, overwhelmingly in the Democratic camp.

Changes from 1961 to 2009 show a collective drop in Protestants by about 19 percent, with a corresponding increase in Catholics and Jews of more than 11 and 6 percent, respectively. The forum also notes that the 110th Congress seated the first two Muslim and first two Buddhist members in the institution’s history.

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