Are Atheists & Non-Believers on the Rise in Congress? These Results May Surprise You

There’s been a great deal of press surrounding the rise of the so-called “nones” — those Americans who do not associate themselves with a specific faith or religious construct. With this proportion of citizens reportedly rising rather quickly, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life decided to take a look at Congress’ make-up to see if a similar pattern is unfolding among elected officials.

When examining the 96th Congress, which was in session from 1979 to 1980, Pew found that not a single House or Senate member reported being a “none.” However, the new 113th Congress has 11 members who count themselves as unaffiliated (or “none”). And, as POLITICO notes, that number is two times as many as fell into this category in the 111th Congress (2009 to 2010). Clearly, there’s an upward movement of “nones” occupying elected office at the legislative level.

While it’s entirely possible that “nones” have always been a part of Congress, admitting as much would have had negative consequences, seeing as American society has always been religiously-inclined. However, POLITICO’s Charles Mahtesian believes that the Pew analysis could be “a sign that the taboo about religious identification is being broken and members of Congress are increasingly comfortable admitting they don’t adhere to any particular faith.”

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio performs a mock swearing in for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington as the 113th Congress began. Credit: AP

In November, Pew explained these findings in detail:

Perhaps the greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion. About one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – a group sometimes collectively called the “nones.” But only one member of the new Congress, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated, according to information gathered by CQ Roll Call. Sinema is the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as “none,” though 10 other members of the 113th Congress (about 2%) do not specify a religious affiliation, up from six members (about 1%) of the previous Congress. This is about the same as the percentage of U.S. adults in Pew Research Center surveys who say that they don’t know, or refuse to specify, their faith (about 2%).

In addition to the changes that are unfolding on the “none” and unaffiliated front, diversity of specific faith systems is also on the rise. As TheBlaze previously-reported, America’s first-ever Buddhist senator (Mazie Hirono) and Hindi representative (Tulsi Gabbard) were recently elected; both are Democrats from Hawaii.

So — what do you think? It’s clear that America is more open to electing people who fall outside of the Judeo-Christian paradigm. But, is the growth of unaffiliated members of Congress evidence that the public is becoming less-religious — or has faith simply become less of a litmus test for public office? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.