"US Capitol" by Andrew Bossi / CC BY-SA 3.0

Religious unaffiliation is growing in the U.S. Why isn’t it in Congress?

Mar 12, 2019

By Bart Worden

(RNS) — This fall, voters in the Midwest elected two Muslim women to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first female members of their faith to enter Congress. The same day, Arizona elected Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who, while not the first of her kind, is even rarer: Sinema is the only person serving in Congress to identify as religiously unaffiliated — putting her in a caucus of less than 0.2 percent of the lawmaking body.

Even after adding in two representatives who identify as “Unitarian Universalist” and the eighteen who “Don’t know/refused,” just over 2.5 percent of those serving in Congress attest to an untraditional theistic faith or no faith at all.

Compare this to the general American public: fewer than half consider religion to be an important part of their lives. More pertinently, in a landmark 2015 Pew Research Center survey titled “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” 22.8 percent of respondents identified as “religiously unaffiliated.” Of Democratic voters, the unaffiliated were the single largest “faith” group, at 28 percent. Unaffiliated Republican voters represented just 14 percent of respondents.

If an increasing number of people are not affiliating with a religious group and attendance at religious activities is believed to be in decline, why aren’t elected officials’ religious affiliations reflecting the trend?

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