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New Congress is the most diverse ever, except for religion

Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

When the new Congress convened this week, it included several firsts with its youngest elected member, its first two Muslim women and its first two Native American women among them. Women now make up about a quarter of Congress, while the Senate and House of Representatives together include more blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans than ever before.

But even as Congress takes steps toward reflecting the gender and racial makeup of the country, it lags behind significantly when it comes to religion, according to an analysis released this week.

Using self-reported information about the religious affiliations of the 534 members of Congress, the Pew Research Center found that about 88 percent call themselves Christians. The number is a slight dip from the 115th Congress, in which 91 percent of members were Christians. The race in North Carolina's 9th District has not been certified amid allegations of electoral fraud, which is why Pew counted one less person than the typical 535 that make up Congress.

"While the number of self-identified Christians in Congress has ticked down, Christians as a whole -- and especially Protestants and Catholics -- are still overrepresented in proportion to their share in the general public," Pew's report said. "Indeed, the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population."

Overall, the U.S. population is about 70 percent Christian. People who are atheist, agnostic or identify with no religion now make up close to 23 percent of the population, while Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other religions together constitute about 6 percent of the U.S., according to Pew.

The nonpartisan research group's report used data from Roll Call, which asked members of Congress which religious group, if any, they identified with as part of a larger questionnaire. Pew did not attempt to measure how religious members of Congress are or how religion influences their politics.

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Here's how the religious makeup of Congress breaks down:

Christians

Data show that Congress has become slightly less Christian over the years. The new Congress has 14 fewer Christians than the previous one, and 20 fewer than the Congress that was in session in 2015 and 2016.

Still, Christians dominate Congress. About 55 percent are Protestants, while 30 percent are Catholics and 15 percent align themselves with "unspecified or other" movements of Christianity. The latter group includes those who said they were Christian, evangelical Christian, evangelical Protestant or Protestant but did not indicate a denomination.

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