The Religious Makeup of the 112th Congress January 5, 2011

The Religious Makeup of the 112th Congress

I wrote this post almost word for word two years ago. In fact, I just copied/pasted it, updating a few things along the way.

It’s sad how little has changed since then regarding atheists in Congress.

What are the religious affiliations of members of the 112th Congress?

Pretty similar to the American public — Overwhelmingly Christian with a spattering of Jews, Muslims, and followers of other faiths.

Except in one category…

The “Unaffiliated”?

We apparently don’t exist in Congress.

Perhaps the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents, however, is in the percentage of the unaffiliated — those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” According to information gathered by CQ Roll Call and the Pew Forum, no members of Congress say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, about one-sixth of U.S. adults (16%) are not affiliated with any particular faith. Only six members of the 112th Congress (about 1%) do not specify a religious affiliation, which is similar to the percentage of the public that says they don’t know or refuses to specify their faith.

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 (PDF).

There’s very little doubt in my mind that there are more unaffiliated, non-religious Americans in Congress, but they dare not say so because it would be political suicide where they come from. In the past two years, that pressure to stay in the closet has only gotten worse.

By the way, who are those 6 members of Congress who are “Unspecified” or didn’t answer the question?

Rep. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Rep. John W. Olver (D-MA)
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Anyone see a pattern…?

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Scott
  • James

    Damn, I’m Australian and I can’t see a pattern (or don’t understand).

    Sad they need to stay in hiding.

    Are there any openly gay people in Congress?

  • Josh

    They are all representatives.

  • Maybe we can assume that no matter what the religious affiliations of those listed as ‘Refused’, they are supporters of the ‘No Religious Test Clause’ in Article VI, paragraph 3 and didn’t think that it was anyones business what religious they are or are not.

  • Dan W

    Okay, I’ve checked around and found the same results as Scott did about those 6 listed as “unspecified.” By the way Hemant, it’s John Olver, not Oliver, so you might want to correct that misspelling of his last name. 🙂 Anyway, I’ve found no information about the religious affiliation of John Olver, Judy Chu, and Tammy Baldwin.

    James, I know of one openly gay member of Congress- Barney Frank, a Democrat representing Massachusetts.

    (Hemant says: Spelling of Olver fixed! That’s what happens when you post something while waiting to watch The Daily Show…)

  • MikeW

    I’m guessing the pattern is that they’re all Democrats from (mostly) progressive states.

  • Alexander Salyer

    And they are all Democrats.

  • This graph is in some serious need of some photoshopping. New column: Scientists.

    Unaffiliated ~ 50-60%

  • Mariela

    I’m thinking it’s most likely because candidates HAVE to be seen going to church by their communities in order to win. The local paper needs to have a picture of the candidate and family, on Sunday, in the front pew (it’s always the first, it seems). Therefore, they list themselves as “affiliated” and put up the show even when, if they were Joe from down the road instead of a representative, they would never call themselves religious.

  • Fitzgerald

    Dan W, there’s actually more than just Frank these days. Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of New Jersey were both elected as openly gay men in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

    And Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is a lesbian, and the first out LBGT politician to take elective office. If I had to peg any member of that list of six as actively non-religious, it’d be her.

    All Democrats, natch. Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona was openly gay and served until he retired in 2006, but he voted for DOMA, so

    While we’re on the subject, we’ve also got two Muslims and three Buddhists on the list of representatives. Atheists get Pete Stark, who is frankly an embarassment to the label. I’ve got no problems with his politics, but the man’s probably corrupt and definitely a first rate ass.

  • Dan W

    Thanks for the info, Fitzgerald. I was sure there were more openly gay members of Congress than just Frank, but I’d forgotten their names.

    I agree with you about Stark; his politics are fine to me but he can be an ass at times. I wish there was more than just one openly atheist member of Congress.

  • Hemant – one partial explanation for the lesser number of unaffiliated folks in the US Congress may be age-related.

    The unaffiliated are found in greater number in younger age demographics. One cannot run for the House until age 25 and cannot run for the Senate until age 30.

    Furthermore, it takes a lot of money to run for Congress. It may be harder for a younger person to raise the money needed to run for office.

  • Camus Dude

    So the takeaway message is that Presbyterians, Anglicans and Jews have the most disproportionate representation?

  • Erp

    First I would say that Pete Stark is not just technically a Unitarian Universalist. He was apparently on the board of one of the theological schools the UUs have which would make him a fair bit more active than some other reps in their religions.

    Second Episcopalians are way overrepresented and I wonder how many of them are members of breakaway generally very reactionary groups (they are the ones using the term ‘Anglican’ though the main Episcopal church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion and they are not).

  • They’re all Democrats?

  • What the hell is so good about Catholics and Jews? People obviously love them disproportionately :/

  • Steve

    It’s extremely disturbing that this even matters at all. America is just about the only western country where people actually care about this.

    Elsewhere it may be news if a Muslim is elected. And even then not necessarily because of the religion, but the status as a cultural minority.

  • Why would they want to tell anyone that they believe in gods. Aren’t they embarrassed about it? You voted for the representative, not their pastor or priest. The thing is that religion is actually an issue for voters in the US which seems really strange as a UK citizen (although I’ll bet we do some stuff that seems weird to you too). I don’t know if this is because real issues aren’t discussed during elections because of the pomp and pzazz and you vote on personality. Maybe there is a conflict over parties fighting over a central political line so issues aren’t contentious and the conflict is made visible by the press through ideological differences.

    According to British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) 34% of the 2010 intake of MPs in the UK are supportive of Christian conscience issues, 37% are unsupportive and the views of the remaining 29% are unclear or unknown. I’d disappointed that so many support Christian issues so you lot in the USA must be horrified with about 90% being Christian. I’m horrified and we’ve got a whole ocean between us.

  • Paul

    No Jedi? That’s odd.

    Seriously, I am going to see if I can find similar stats for Canadian houses of commons and senate.

  • Sean

    Shoot, four of those Protestant variations I had to google, never heard of them before. Sure are a lot of cults in this country.

  • Bob


    What scares me most about the religious affiliation is that it has a clear influence on national and foreign policy.

    Equal rights have been denied to LGBT individuals on the basis that there’s some kind of biblical or religious grounds for said discrimination.

    We have idiots in the military like General Jerry Boykin, who attested to seeing evil blots on the map and blustering about how the Christian God was superior to Islam.

    We are talking about people who can ultimately decide on the release of nuclear weapons, and whose faith includes a spectactular end-of-days battle to herald the return of their pop-idol vision of Christ.

    That should disturb any sane individual.

  • Bob


    There have been attempts to get people to declare ‘Jedi’ as a religious affiliation on national surveys and/or the U.S. Census, but they still do not pass the ‘bar’ for becoming an ‘officially recognized’ religion.

    And while I’m a big Star Wars fan, a bunch of folks running around pretending to be Jedi as a formal religion … thank you, but, no. (When you can actually produce a working lightsaber and demonstrate Force-assisted agility and telekinesis, we’ll talk. But the Jedi still have this ‘we’re always right’ and ‘superior moral sense’ thing going for them that makes them every bit as irritating as Christianity.)

  • Revyloution

    Earl Blumenaure is my senator here in Oregon, and I love him. He’s one of the best politicians I’ve ever met.

    I never heard anything about faith from him, and that’s how I like it. I’d rather have senators that say ‘none of your business’ to the religion question. It should just be a non- issue.

  • Revyloution

    Er typo. Earl is my Representative. Wyden is my Senator.

  • Bob says:

    And while I’m a big Star Wars fan, a bunch of folks running around pretending to be Jedi as a formal religion … thank you, but, no. (When you can actually produce a working lightsaber and demonstrate Force-assisted agility and telekinesis, we’ll talk. But the Jedi still have this ‘we’re always right’ and ‘superior moral sense’ thing going for them that makes them every bit as irritating as Christianity.)

    I find your lack of faith disturbing.

  • Erp

    @Bob: You can’t declare ‘Jedi’ on the US Census because the census has never asked about religion.

  • AWayfaringStrainer

    If my son brought home a list of teachers in his public school showing their religious affiliation, I would be outraged. It is none of our business that Ms. Hart is Jewish or Mr. Mehta spends Sunday morning on his blog. And, if a parent told the principal “My child would better with Christian teacher, please move him to another class,” I hope the parent would be told where to go.

    It is probably impossible to stop at this point, but I idea that it is somehow proper knowledge to disseminate a list is religious affiliations by name seems just wrong and, more importantly, it sets a bad precedent. Imagine the principal that distributes such a list of teachers, arguing if they do in Congress, why can’t we do it in a school.

  • Bob


    I’m a member of the 501st Legion.


    I know there was a push to do so in the U.K. (and, IIRC, Australia). It was mentioned in the U.S., but – as you pointed out – the Census does not ask that question.

    I don’t know if it’s on YouTube, but there was an interview with the head of the U.K. Jedi Temple, in which some bar patron climbs the fence while wearing a Vader mask, and proceeds to pummel the good Jedi Master with a toy lightsaber.

  • Jonas

    Of the 39 Jewish members, I’m guessing none are Hassidic, or Ultra Orthodox. – Of the Christians, I’ll bet you none are Amish. Those who identify as Jewish, do they mean culturally, or religiously?

    Who’s to say they aren’t Jewish-atheists? once more who cares? — As long as the principle of Separation of Church and State is upheld. To take for example the Nat. Day of Prayer Case now under appeal, the largest problem with that is the Christian centered message of the Proclamation, since it is drafted by a Right-Wing Christian group —

    In a Gilbert & Sullivan (Iolanthe Fashion) the insertion of two words will do it:

    Everyone is commanded to Pray [or not] as they see fit.

    And there you are out of you difficulties at last.

  • jonezart

    For those of you shocked or surprised by the overwhelming religiosity of American politicians, you should take a look at the book “C Street” by Jeff Sharlet.

  • Bob


    Also Sharlet’s ‘The Family.’

  • jolly

    Politicians are people with opinions and so they are more likely to be affiliated with a lot more groups than most other Americans. My guess is that most Americans that say they are unaffiliated don’t care much about religion and give it little thought.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    No Jedi? That’s odd.

    Well we had a Sith Lord as Vice-President up until a couple of years ago and he purged all of the Jedi out of the government.

  • Denis

    I’m not surprised to see Stark “officially” a UU. Nothing wrong with it.

    Unitarians don’t require you to believe in anything. I’m an atheist Unitarian. There are lots of us. UU’s are pretty much just organized humanists. Some congregations can get spiritual, but so what? Others are not.

    I go to church on Sunday mornings for intellectual stimulation. It is a philosophical humanist gathering more than anything else. We can go for weeks before the word “god” is mentioned and even when that happens, “god” will be referred to as “she” half of the time.

error: Content is protected !!