Capitol Hill: A Mighty Religious Place

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

The 111th Congress will be the most religiously diverse ever, but that doesn’t mean every religious group is represented according to its proportion in the population.

According to a new study by the  Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (read it here) , Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims are all underrepresented, while Catholics are   represented in excess of their place on the population charts.

But the real winner in the representation sweepstakes?

“Among the nation’s smaller religious groups, one group stands out in terms of its numbers in Congress: Jews, who account for just 1.7 percent of the U.S. adult population, make up 8.4 percent of Congress, including just over 13 percent of the Senate,” according to the Pew study.

When next month’s swearing-ins are over, there will be 32 Jews in the House, 13 in the Senate.  The latter number won’t be affected by the yet-to-be-decided Senate race in Minnesota, since both contestants in the longrunning post-election battle – incumbent Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Democrat Al Franken – are Jewish.

Protestants are still in the majority in Congress, but barely so – 55 percent, down from 75 percent in 1961.

There are two Muslims, two Buddhists and five who “did not specify a religious affiliation…and no members specifically said they were unaffiliated,”  Pew says.

That last figure contrasts with the 16 percent of the nation’s adult population who say they have no religious affiliation, making Capitol Hill a mighty religious place, if not necessarily a pious one.

Pew reports that there are now two Muslim members – Minnesota’s Keith Ellison and Indiana’s Andre Carson, both Democrats.  Muslims make up 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, 0.4 percent of Congress

There are big differences by party.  71 percent of congressional Republicans are Protestant, Pew says, while only 44 percent of Democrats are.  Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely than Republicans to be Catholic.

And the Jews? No surprises here; Jews are 13 percent of congressional Democrats, only 0.9 percent of congressional Republicans.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.