The Religious Makeup of the 113th Congress

I wrote this post almost word for word two years ago and two years before that. In fact, I just copied/pasted it, updating a few things along the way.

It’s sad how little has changed since then regarding atheists in Congress.

What are the religious affiliations of members of the 113th Congress?

Pretty similar to the American public — Overwhelmingly Christian with a spattering of Jews, Muslims, and followers of other faiths.

Except in one category…

The “Unaffiliated.” We were non-existent in the last Congress. (When Rep. Pete Stark was in Congress, he was listed as a Unitarian.) And we’re almost completely missing this time around, too.

Perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — a group sometimes collectively called the “nones.” But only one member of the new Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to information gathered by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none,” though 10 other members of the 113th Congress (about 2%) do not specify a religious affiliation, up from six members (about 1%) of the previous Congress. This is about the same as the percentage of U.S. adults in Pew Research Center surveys who say that they don’t know, or refuse to specify, their faith (about 2%).

O RLY?! Sinema’s a “None” now? That’s funny, considering her campaign was telling everybody just last week that she is anything but that. But until they correct the Pew Forum folks, I guess we can all break out our party hats. (What’s that? Party’s over? Damn.)

Even if Sinema is a “none,” having only one openly non-religious member of Congress is simply awful. We need to do better than that and get more open atheists elected. To do that, we need more open atheists to run for public office.

There’s very little doubt in my mind that there are more unaffiliated, non-religious Americans in Congress, but they dare not say so because it would be political suicide where they come from. In the past several years, that pressure to stay in the closet has been pretty bad, but not everywhere in the country… maybe we’ll soon see more candidates at least not declaring a religious affiliation (even if they don’t say “Unaffiliated”).

By the way, who are those 10 members of Congress who are “Unspecified” or who didn’t answer the question (PDF)?

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Anyone see a pattern…?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • terri jones

    Actually, although I see an association between religion and less than ethical behavior, I tend to vote for people who seem to be ethical persons. I completely agree that believing in fairy tales is a strike against them. But I know of some atheists who are not ethical. Mere atheism isn’t enough for me. 

  • Kenny Snyder

    While it’s disheartening that people can’t or don’t openly declare themselves to be atheists, I would rather have them there as “undeclared” than have them openly state their religion or lack thereof and lose to a declared Baptist, Catholic, etc.

    Bill Foster is a physicist. We know the general trend with scientists and religious beliefs. I would prefer to see more occupations of congressmen listed as Scientist than religion listed as Atheist.

  • DougI

    Tammy Duckworth is most likely a Buddhist.  I’m guessing that the other Tammy, Tammy Baldwin, probably would join the “none” category.  Kinda hard to tell with Progressives sometimes since they value good deeds rather than pretending to be good people by going to church then stabbing people in the back when they are in D.C.

  • C Peterson

    I’d like to see more scientists, as well. But real scientists. Let’s not forget that Paul Broun, a member of the House Science Committee, calls himself a scientist (and even has a science education, albeit from Georgia schools). You remember him- the Young Earther who considers evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang to be “lies straight from the pit of Hell”.

  • Erp

    Note that many people who are listed as Jewish are likely to be atheistic (much like UUs can be atheistic).  

    Michael Bennet has apparently said he believes in God and his background is Jewish on his mother’s side and probably very liberal protestant Christianity on his father’s side.

    Mark Pocan succeeded Tammy Baldwin in her house seat.   He is gay, married (at least in Canada and DC but not his own state). 
    Suzanne Bonamici according to wikipedia was raised Unitarian and Episcopalian and now attends a synagogue with her husband and children.
    Earl Blumenauer is listed in one place as non-denominational Protestant but that is often a catchall term in American politics for anyone who can’t be placed.
    Tammy Duckworth is a disabled Vet born in Thailand (father an American marine) and raised Buddhist. Tierney was raised Catholic though has been ‘unspecified’ for quite some time.

  • Dave Buchfuhrer

    This is completely consistent with her communications director’s statement from last week. “She does not identify as any of the above, nor does she choose a label to describe what she believes is deeply personal for every individual.”

  • kalimsaki

    hey Mehta
    you are a brave heart

  • Kenny Snyder

     Yeah, I’d had “real scientist” in there but took it out. I agree. Not physician, dentist, engineer, mathmatician, etc. Lab scientists who understand statistics, studies, and how to spot flaws in these studies, statistics, and possible flaws.

  • Paul Paulus

    So, essentially, religion turns people into liars.

    Who knew?

  • L.W. Bigdick

    “My erection for Mitt Romney remains steadfast. I fear that my balls my actually explode.

    If my followers think that they are waiting on my second “coming” they are sadly mistaken. They should be praying for my 50th coming!!!!(At least!!”)–Jesus Christ, in Kirk Cameron’s anus.

  • chicago dyke

    except for the true believers, who are mostly protestant or red caped loon style catholics, the vast majority of pols are not actively “religious.”

    this is the great religious hoax perpetuated on the religious american voter. obama is a great example. but bush is too. the list of “did not answer” the question pols are the brave ones taking steps to come out about what everyone in DC already knows: religion is for the suckers, not the pros. 

    yes, there are exceptions. far too many religious fanatic types infest our military, congressional staff, lobbying organizations, even the media. but when i say “far too many” i don’t mean it like i mean with talking about the population at large. the general population that calls itself religious goes to services at least weekly, gives money to a religious group at least quarterly, says prayers over the dinner table, etc. 

    politicians in the beltway? not so much. unless there’s a camera and it’s a campaign photo op. and even then, the religious leaders who “bless” them for coming to their house of worship are in on the scam. “we know you’re only here every other year or so, when it’s time to ‘prove’ your faith.” 

    try being a firm, happy, loud about it member of the faithful in DC power circles. with certain exceptions, you’ll get laughed out of the room/ignored/not invited to the right parties. the vast majority of politicians are “religious” in the same way that say, romney is “committed” to anti-choice on the topic of abortion. which is to say, not at all, except when it suits them. 

  • Dubliner

    I think it is grossly intrusive to be questioning politicians about their religious belief. It’s considered very rude to ask people about what they believe in my country. If it is discussed at all it arises organically in the course of dinner party conversation or similar.