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There will be more non-Christians in the new Congress than ever before

Congress is still more Christian than America — but it’s changing.

Incoming Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will be one of the first two Muslim women to serve in the House, part of the most religiously diverse Congress in history.
The Washington Post/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

The 116th Congress, being sworn in on Thursday, will make all kinds of history — including in its members’ religious faith, or lack thereof.

The new House and Senate will have the highest number of non-Christian members of any modern Congress, according to data compiled by the Pew Research Center, edging out the 111th when Democrats had full control of Capitol Hill.

Pew Research Center

A full 63 members — almost all Democrats — adhere to a faith other than Christianity or don’t adhere to any faith at all.

It’s the Democratic caucus that is creating the change. The first two Muslim women will take their oath of office as members of the new House Democratic majority, and incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) told CNN’s Clare Foran she planned to place her hand on a Quran to take the oath.

According to Pew, 61 Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate are not Christian, while only two Republicans are not — both of whom are Jewish. Most of the Democratic non-Christians are Jewish as well (32), and there are a handful of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. Nearly 20 Democratic members declined to name their religion — a new high, per Pew’s data — and newly elected Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said she is unaffiliated.

Pew Research Center

Sinema is the only officially unaffiliated member of Congress, per Pew, even though nearly 25 percent of Americans say they have no religion.

On the whole, Congress is still much more Christian than the American public and that remains true for the Democratic membership, even with this new growth in religious diversity. More than 75 percent of Democrats in Congress are Christian, while just 57 percent of voters who are either registered Democratic or lean toward Democrats say they are Christian.

One of the hallmarks of the incoming Congress is more diverse representation. While Capitol Hill remains more homogenous than the public in its religious beliefs — much like it does in race and gender — it’s slowly beginning to more closely resemble the people whom it represents.

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