05 January 2017, The Tablet

Catholic representation in Capitol Hill increases as new lawmakers are sworn in

Number of Christians elected in November is down on last term but total of Catholic lawmakers doubles in 50 years

The religious makeup of the 115th Congress is significantly Christian - 91 per cent - with Catholics comprising one-third of the House of Representatives and about a quarter of the Senate.

Overall, there are six fewer Christians in the new Congress, at 485 members. But there are four more Catholics, who now total 168.

The high percentage of Christians in Congress is similar to the 87th Congress in 1961, when such information was first collected. At the time, 95 per cent of Congress members were Christian.

The data on the religious makeup of the current senators and representatives was collected by Pew Research Center and announced this week.

The Pew report notes that the large number of Christians in Congress has shifted in recent years with a decline in the number of Protestants. In 1961, Protestants made up 87 per cent of Congress, compared with 56 per cent today. Catholics, conversely, made up 19 per cent of the 87th Congress, and now are 31 per cent of the legislative body.

Looking at each party, two-thirds, or 67 per cent, of Republicans in the new Congress are Protestant and 27 percent of Republicans are Catholic. The breakdown between Protestants and Catholics is more evenly divided among the Democrats: 42 per cent are Protestant and 37 percent are Catholic.

Of the 293 Republicans in the new Congress, all but two, who are Jewish, are Christian. Democrats in Congress also are predominantly Christian - 80 per cent - but they have more religious diversity among non-Christians.

The 242 Democrat Congress members include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist in addition to one religiously unaffiliated member and 10 who declined to state their religious affiliation.

Overall, the new Congress has seven fewer Protestants than the last Congress. Baptists had the biggest losses - down seven seats - followed by Anglicans and Episcopalians - down six seats.

Among non-Christian religious groups, Jews and Hindus had the biggest gains - an increase of two seats each. Jews now hold 30 seats in Congress. The number of Hindus rose from one to three and the number of Buddhists increased from two to three. The number of Muslims in Congress - two - remained unchanged.

The new legislative group also has the smallest freshman class of any Congress in the past 10 years with 62 new members joining the 473 returnees. Of the new members, half are Protestant and roughly a third are Catholic.

The Pew report points out that some religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics and Jews, have greater representation in Congress than in the general population. Jews, for example, make up 2 perc ent 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 numbers in the US public.

Another significant finding is that the most notably underrepresented group in Congress is the religiously unaffiliated. This group - also known as religious "nones" - account for 23 per cent of the general public but makes up just 0.2 per cent of the 115th Congress.

PICTURE - Newly-elected members of the House of Representatives are sworn in during the opening of the 115th US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC this week. Catholic Ryan who ran for the Republican nomination for president last year, was re-elected as House Speaker as expected, while fellow Catholic Joe Biden presides over the old Senate chamber for the last time...

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99