Catholics in Congress: one-third of House, one-quarter of Senate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

religious makeup of the 115th Congress is significantly Christian — 91 percent
— with Catholics comprising one-third of the House of Representatives and about a quarter of the

Overall, there are six fewer Christians in the new Congress, at 485 members. But there are four more Catholics, who now total 168.

The high percentage of Christians in Congress is
similar to the 87th Congress in 1961, when such information was first collected. At the time, 95 percent of Congress members were

The data on the religious makeup of the current
senators and representatives was collected by Pew Research Center and announced
Jan. 3.

The Pew report notes that the large number of
Christians in Congress has shifted in recent years with a decline in the number
of Protestants. In 1961, Protestants made up 87 percent of Congress, compared with 56 percent today. Catholics, conversely, made up 19 percent of the 87th Congress, and now are 31 percent of the legislative body.

Looking at each party, two-thirds, or 67 percent, of
Republicans in the new Congress are Protestant and 27 percent of Republicans are
Catholic. The breakdown between Protestants and Catholics is more evenly
divided among the Democrats: 42 percent are Protestant
and 37 percent are Catholic.

Of the 293 Republicans in the new Congress, all but
two, who are Jewish, are Christian. Democrats in Congress also are predominantly
Christian — 80 percent — but they have more religious diversity among

The 242 Democrat Congress members include 28 Jews, three
Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist in addition to one
religiously unaffiliated member and 10 who declined to state their religious

Overall, the new Congress has seven fewer Protestants
than the last Congress. Baptists had the biggest losses — down seven seats — followed
by Anglicans and Episcopalians — down six seats.

Among non-Christian religious groups, Jews and Hindus
had the biggest gains — an increase of two seats each. Jews now hold 30 seats in Congress. The number of Hindus rose from one to three and the number of
Buddhists increased from two to three.

The number of Muslims in Congress — two — remained unchanged.

The new legislative group also has the smallest freshman
class of any Congress in the past 10 years with 62 new members joining the 473 returnees. Of the new members, half are Protestant and roughly a third are

The Pew report points out that some religious groups,
including Protestants, Catholics and Jews, have greater representation in
Congress than in the general population. Jews, for example, make up 2 percent of
the U.S. adult population but account for 6 percent of Congress. Other groups —
including Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Christians — are represented
in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the U.S. public.

Another significant finding is that the most notably
underrepresented group in Congress is the religiously unaffiliated. This group —
also known as religious “nones” — account for 23 percent of the
general public but makes up just 0.2 percent of the 115th Congress.

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