Hindu, Bud­dhist win first-time seats on Capi­tol Hill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The 113th Congress won’t be sworn in un­til Jan­uary, but it’s al­ready mak­ing his­tory on the re­li­gious-di­ver­sity front.

Hawaii Demo­crat Tulsi Gab­bard scored a first as the first Hindu elected to Congress, while an­other Hawaii Demo­crat, Rep. Mazie Hirono, be­came the first Bud­dhist elected to the Se­nate. Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat Ami Bera be­came the only Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist mem­ber of Congress af­ter win­ning his re­count against Repub­li­can Rep. Daniel E. Lun­gren.

A “Faith on the Hill” study re­leased Nov. 16 by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s Fo­rum on Re­li­gion & Pub­lic Life found that the newly elected Congress may be the most ec­u­meni­cal in U.S. his­tory. At the same time, the 113th could be seen as the least de­vout, with 11 mem­bers re­port­ing their re­li­gion as ei­ther “un­af­fil­i­ated” or “don’t know/re­fused.”

The re­sults shouldn’t come as a sur­prise, given that Congress tends to track the di­rec­tion of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, ac­cord­ing to the report.

“This con­tin­ues a grad­ual in­crease in re­li­gious di­ver­sity that mir­rors trends in the coun­try as a whole,” said the Pew report. “While Congress re­mains ma­jor­ity Protes­tant, the in­sti­tu­tion is far less so to­day than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quar­ters of the mem­bers be­longed to Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions.”

In terms of the head count, the win­ner was the Catholic Church, Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion listed saw its num­bers de­cline or re­main the same with the ex­cep­tion of Bap­tists, who added six mem­bers to jump from 12.7 to 14 per­cent of the Congress.

The big­gest drop-off among the ma­jor re­li­gions was Ju­daism. Jewish law­mak­ers saw their num­bers fall from 39 to 32, low­er­ing their per­cent­age from 7.3 to 6 per­cent of Congress. Most of those losses de­clined to list a re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion grew from six to 11, or about 2 per­cent, a record high for Congress but far lower than the na­tional av­er­age.

“Per­haps the great­est dis­par­ity . . . is be­tween the per­cent­age of U.S. adults and the per­cent­age of mem­bers of Congress who do not iden­tify with any par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion,” said the Pew study. “About one in five U.S. adults de­scribe them­selves as athe­ist,

“This con­tin­ues a grad­ual in­crease in re­li­gious di­ver­sity that mir­rors trends in the coun­try as a whole,” said the Pew report. “While Congress re­mains ma­jor­ity Protes­tant, the in­sti­tu­tion is far less so to­day than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three­quar­ters of the mem­bers be­longed to Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions.”

whose mem­bers picked up five seats, in­creas­ing their per­cent­age among law­mak­ers from 29.2 per­cent in the 112th Congress to 30.4 per­cent. Sev­eral races now un­der­go­ing re­counts could also tilt Catholic.

Protes­tants con­tin­ued to make up the ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers, but their num­bers de­clined from 307 in the pre­vi­ous Congress to 299, for 56.4 per­cent of the to­tal. Ev­ery came as the re­sult of re­tire­ments af­ter five Jewish mem­bers de­clined to run for re-elec­tion.

Two Jewish Democrats lost their races: Ne­vada Rep. Shel­ley Berkley, whose Se­nate bid fell short, and Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Howard L. Ber­man, who was de­feated by fel­low Jewish Demo­crat Brad Sherman af­ter they were mapped into the same district.

The num­ber of law­mak­ers who ag­nos­tic or ‘noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar’ — a group some­times col­lec­tively called the ‘nones.’ ”

At the same time, the body’s only avowed athe­ist, Demo­cratic Rep. Fort­ney Pete Stark, lost his bid for re-elec­tion in Cal­i­for­nia. Some athe­ist groups ini­tially de­scribed Rep.-elect Krys­ten Sinema, Ari­zona Demo­crat, as a “non­the­ist,” and she was iden­ti­fied in the Pew study as the first law­maker to pub­licly de­scribe her re­li­gion as “none.” But her spokesman, Justin Unga, said in a post­elec­tion state­ment to the Re­li­gion News Ser­vice that she does not iden­tify her­self as an athe­ist.

“Krys­ten be­lieves the terms non­the­ist, athe­ist or non­be­liever are not be­fit­ting of her life’s work or per­sonal char­ac­ter,” Mr. Unga said. “She does not iden­tify as any of the above.”

As with the pre­vi­ous Congress, there was a dis­tinct de­nom­i­na­tional di­vide be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats. Repub­li­cans made up 69.1 per­cent of the Protes­tants, com­pared with 42.5 per­cent for Democrats. Twelve of the 15 Mor­mon law­mak­ers were Repub­li­can.

Catholics tilted to­ward the Demo­cratic side by a mar­gin of 57 per­cent to 43 per­cent, while Jewish law­mak­ers were 97 per­cent Demo­crat, with House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor once again listed as the sole Jewish Repub­li­can.

All other non-Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions, such as Mus­lim and Hindu, were made up ex­clu­sively of Democrats, as were all law­mak­ers who de­clined to spec­ify a re­li­gion.

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