Congress is getting more religiously diverse, with 56 percent of members identifying themselves as Protestant, down from three-quarters of lawmakers five decades ago, according to a new report by The Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life.
The 113th Congress sworn into office last week included the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu member of either chamber of the national legislature, and the first lawmaker ever to describe her religion as “none,” the report says. Pew based its conclusions on reporting by CQRollCall.
Hawaii accounted for a double dose of diversity. Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the first Hindu in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has served on the Honolulu City Council and in the Hawaii state legislature, represents the island’s 2nd congressional district.
She takes over the seat that had been held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D., Hawaii), who became the first Buddhist in Senate history when she took office last week. (two Buddhists serve in the current House: Rep. Hank Johnson (D.,Ga.) and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D.,Hawaii).
And Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D.,Ariz.) became the first member of Congress to publicly declare herself religiously unaffiliated; Ten other members of Congress did not provide any religious information. About 20 percent of U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” Pew says.