Congress Still More Religious Than US Public, Study Finds

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi administers the oath of office to members of the 117th Congress on Sunday. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

(CN) — The number of congressional lawmakers who identify as Christian remains disproportionately high compared to the rapidly shrinking Christian population in the American public, the Pew Research Center reported Monday.

The study says about a quarter of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated, a category that includes atheists, agnostics and people who described themselves as “nothing in particular.” But only one member of the new Congress, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, identifies as religiously unaffiliated.

According to Pew, 88% of members of Congress are Christian, compared to 65% of the general public.

The study released Monday found that Congress is both more heavily Protestant and more heavily Catholic than the U.S. adult population overall. It identified the largest Protestant groups as being Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians.

The researchers point out that representatives of both major political parties are heavily Christian, with 99% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats in Congress identifying as such.

There are two Jewish Republicans in the House, Congressmen Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The few Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in Congress are all Democrats.

Since the 1960s, Congress has seen only a 7-point drop in the number of members who are Christian. The pollsters noted that members of Congress also are older, on average, than U.S. adults overall and this demographic tends to be religiously affiliated at higher rates. 

Though a 2019 Pew poll found the number of Americans who identify as Christians fell 12 percentage points over the past decade, the 117th Congress’ newly elected freshman class is slightly more Christian than its incumbent counterpart. Only six of the 67 new members are not Christian, according to the latest Pew study. Three freshmen members are Jewish, one is a Unitarian Universalist and two declined to share an affiliation.

The largest difference between newcomers and incumbents, Pew found, is in the share of Protestants who do not specify a denomination. In the freshman class, 27% of members fall in this category, compared to the 17% of incumbents.

Because most members are returning, the new report found similar results as other recent studies on the overall religious landscape of Congress. 

The study is based on data about lawmakers’ religious affiliations from CQ Roll Call, which was compared to surveys of U.S. adults from January 2018 through July 2019.

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