US Congress ‘is as Christian as it was in the 1960s’

New study finds that Capitol Hill does not reflect religious composition of America

A view of US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. File photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

A view of US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. File photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

 

The new US Congress does not accurately reflect the religious composition of American society, an independent study has found.

Protestants, Catholics and Jews have greater representation in Congress than in the general population, according to the review by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre.

It found that the religious make-up of Republican Party representatives is particularly skewed, with just two non-Christians among its 293 members.

The study said the group that is most underrepresented in Congress is the religiously-unaffiliated. The group accounts for 23 per cent of the US general public, but just 0.2 per cent of the new Congress.

The centre, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan fact tank”, found that while “the share of US adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades”, the new 115th Congress “is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s”.

It said that, of the members of the new Congress, “91 per cent describe themselves as Christians.

“This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95 per cent of members were Christian.”

Among the 293 Republicans in the new Congress, “all but two identify as Christians; there are two Jewish Republicans, Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee”.

The study found that Democratic members of Congress “are [also] overwhelmingly Christian (80 per cent)”.

However, Democratic representatives also include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist, as well as the only member of Congress to describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated - Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona.

All 10 members of Congress who declined to state their religious affiliation are Democrats.

‘Less Protestant’

The study also found that, as with the US itself, “Congress has become much less Protestant over time”.

The figures for the new Congress indicate a drop in the number of Protestant representatives from 75 per cent in 1961 (at the beginning of the 87th Congress) to 56 per cent today.

Over the same period, the share of Catholics in Congress has risen from 19 per cent to 31 per cent.

More than two-thirds of Republicans in the new Congress, 67 per cent, are Protestant, while 27 per cent are Catholic.

Among the Democrats, 42 per cent are Protestant and 37 per cent are Catholic.

Jews make up 2 per cent of the US adult population, but account for 6 per cent of Congress.

Other groups, including Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their share of the US public.