The Religious Makeup of the 111th Congress December 20, 2008

The Religious Makeup of the 111th Congress

What are the religious affiliations of members of the 111th Congress?

Pretty similar to the American public.

Except for one category…


The “Unaffiliated”?

They apparently don’t exist in Congress.

Before atheists ask the obvious question, here’s a more specific breakdown from a report released yesterday by the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life:


The first question that came to my mind: What about Congressman Pete Stark? Isn’t he an atheist?

Well, yes he is, but he is technically listed as a Unitarian.

(In fact, here’s a full breakdown of every Congress member along with his/her religious affiliation (PDF) — a terrific resource!)

The (mis?)categorization of Stark leads David Hume of the Secular Right blog to speculate further:

Peter Stark’s case highlights the likelihood of what is going on: there are almost certainly other “cryptic atheists” in Congress, who take advantage of the conventional assumption by Americans that affiliation with a religion connotes theism.

Hume looks at statistics about belief in God among Jewish people and surmises:

It seems very likely that many of the Jews in Congress are culturally and not religiously identified. A quick & dirty check in the [General Social Survey] suggests that Jewish confidence in the existence of God tends to decrease with education…

I’m still hoping the new Obama administration will give certain members of Congress the impetus and freedom to come out as a non-theist without fearing the worst.

By the way, who are those 5 members of Congress who are “Unspecified” or didn’t answer the question?

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D–HI)
Rep. Bill Foster (D–IL)
Rep. John W. Oliver (D–MA)
Rep. John F. Tierney (D–MA)
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D–WI)

(via Secular Right)

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  • I did not know we had any Buddhists in Congress. That’s interesting.
    I’m really not surprised that we, along with the Hindu and pagan communities, are underrepresented. It sucks to be the minority, but you’d think 16% would count for at least some pandering.

  • Andrew

    Tammy Baldwin is also one of the few gay congresspersons serving. Perhaps that may have something to do with her not wanting to associate with any particular religion, especially if she regards them as homophobic.

  • Miko

    That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like geography-based representation. It made sense when sending news took a week, but these days it’s just an excuse for politicians to gerrymander themselves into an eternal position of power and bribe voters through outrageous pork projects. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to just let each voter choose who they want to represent them and weight each representative’s vote by how many people they’re representing? (And seriously: if you had a choice between a representative who shares your politics and one who lives in DC but vacations in your area for a few weeks a year, which would you pick?)

    Then, instead of being totally left out due to not being a majority in any geographical area, we’d actually see about 16% of the Congress be nontheists, as well as a nice scattering of Greens and Libertarians (and perhaps other third parties, although I’d guess that they’d still be too small to matter even with a reform like this). And since everyone would get to choose who represents them, there wouldn’t be an issue of 45% of the population being disenfranchised in Congress.

    Unfortunately, it’d require a Constitutional amendment, so the Republocrats will never let something like this happen.

  • Miko,

    That sounds like a really complicated political system. The disadvantage of foregoing with geographical representation is that representatives won’t be able to address local matters. There is a simpler system that is still based on geographical representation, yet seeks to reflect voting-patterns more accurately, so if the Libertarians get 5% of the vote, for example, they get 5% of the seats. It’s called mixed member proportional representation.

  • I’m semi-curious as to why anyone would think Obama’s administration might give people the ease with which to announce they’re atheists or non-theists. Did I miss something and he’s not just sorta, y’know, bending over for the religious right?

  • Epistaxis

    I wonder if the word “makeup” was an intentional double entendre.

  • llewelly

    I’m semi-curious as to why anyone would think Obama’s administration might give people the ease with which to announce they’re atheists or non-theists.

    Two possible explanations:
    (a) Obama was raised non-religious. (He converted to Christianity as an adult.)
    (b) Obama is perceived as a liberal.
    While Obama’s direct remarks in general don’t discriminate against atheists or other non-religious folk, as we saw when he announced support for taxpayer-funding of faith-based organizations, the Democratic National Convention opened with a prayer breakfast, and again in his co-operation with the congressional selection of Rick Warren to give the inauguration invocation, his actions indicate to me that people are reading too much into (a) and (b).

  • llewelly, well, y’know, it’s just that atheist types like to think of themselves as being primarily ruled by evidence and reason – and evidence and reason suggest, yes, people are putting entirely too much faith in his being raised non-religious and his supposed liberalism.

    I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if some crazy fundie believes that Obama is the anti-christ, but us atheists are supposed to use REASON, hehe, and when the facts contradict the narrative we’re supposed to side with the facts. 😉

  • Erp

    Strict percentage allocation would lead to the far far right being represented also.

    I dislike Rick Warren; however, the invocation is icing with no real substance behind it. Obama may be trying to make Warren indebted to him without giving him anything real (I’m not sure Warren will see the debt though). Personally if we had to have an invocation/benediction, I think one of the people giving them should have been Jewish.

  • Chelsea

    I’ve always thought of “Christian nondenominational” as the “We go to church on Christmas Eve and Easter, and one year we even went on Mother’s Day!” type of Christian. 😀

  • What I would find interesting if he numbers could be accurately determined is how many of the public and congress while “officially” affiliated with a religion actually are total non-believers but for social or business reasons, pretend to be deists. I am sure the number would be shocking to most “true believers” and would include a surprising number of clergy.

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