Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 113th Congress

The newly elected, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole. While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations.

Catholics have seen the biggest gains among the 530 seats in the new Congress that have been decided as of Nov. 16. So far, Catholics have picked up five seats, for a total of 161, raising their share to just over 30%.1 The biggest decline is among Jews, who have been elected to 32 seats (6%), seven fewer than in the 112th Congress, where Jews held 39 seats (7%).2 Mormons continue to hold 15 seats (about 3%), the same as in the previous Congress.

Protestants also appear likely to continue to occupy about the same proportion of seats (56%) as in the 112th Congress (57%). In addition, the Protestant share of each political party in the new Congress is about the same as in the 112th; roughly seven-in-ten Republicans are Protestants, compared with fewer than half of Democrats. However, the members elected for the first time in 2012 are less Protestant than the group first elected in 2010; 48% are Protestant, compared with 59% of those elected for the first time in 2010.

Protestants, Catholics and Jews each make up a greater percentage of the members of Congress than of all U.S. adults. The same is true for some sub-groups of Protestants, such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians. By contrast, Pentecostals are a much smaller percentage of Congress than of the general public. Due in part to electoral gains in recent years, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus now are represented in Congress in closer proportion to their numbers in the U.S. adult population. But some small religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress.

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.3 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%).

George Galloway’s election victory in Bradford continues to draw attention to the participation of Muslims in the British political system

14 May 2012

 

Bradford accommodates the third highest percentage of South Asians in the UK. So-called ‘Muslim votes’ make up 45% of the constituency’s population, and thus these votes are crucial for any political party that wants to score a victory in the elections.

 

Political experts were taken by surprise when George Galloway scored an undisputed victory in the elections for the vacant parliamentary seat of Bradford West in March, 2012. Galloway has always had close relations with the Muslim community but performed poorly in his own constituency and lost his seat in Bromley in 2010.

 

His recent victory has been considered an indication of Muslims’ dissatisfaction in the current performance of the mainstream political parties. This of course has some ground, since unemployment rates in parts of Bradford are almost four times higher than the national average and the number of pupils who progress to higher education are amongst the lowest in the country.

Anti-Islam Events in Berlin

28.07.2011

The far-right political groups „Pro Deutschland“ (pro Germany) and „Freiheit“ (freedom) are planning two anti-Islam events in Berlin. Pro Deutschland is planning on holding what they call an „Anti-Islamicisation Congress“ at the end of August. They expect around 1000 participants, amongst others members of the Belgian right-wing Vlaams Belang and the Austrian FPÖ. As the highlight of the event, Pro Deutschland has organized a demonstration, moving from Berlin’s „Potsdamer Platz“ to the „Brandenburger Tor“. The political party „Freiheit“ is planning an Anti-Islam event scheduled only a week later. They invited various speakers, amongst others the Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders. Various associations and parties have already announced their protest against these events. In particular in light of recent events in Norway, they consider such plans to be a crude provocation.

Amsterdam District Council Subsidizes Inflammatory Campaign

March 10 2011

The Islamic leader of the district council of East Amsterdam is facing criticism for providing subsidies to a youth organization which posted inflammatory material during provincial elections. The ASRI campaign posters referred to the Second World War and called upon citizens to “vote or die”. The press release explicitly called upon Muslims to collect voting proxies from those who did not intend to cast ballots, in order to fight against the current “barbarous government”. The ASRI and district leader now face criticism from the conservative political party VVD. District leader Fatima Elatik stressed her distance from the campaign, which she found “not sensible”.

A Muslim Candidate for the Christian Democrats

7 October 2010
“My dialect gives me away,” says Sara Rahman smiling, “I’m from Upper Austria.” Rahman, a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab, is 29th on the electoral list for the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), a Christian democratic political party. For Rahman there is no contradiction between being Muslim and being part of a Christian political party: the ÖVP is a value-oriented party, and she sees many similarities with her own way of thinking.
Nevertheless, she is against a ban on the burqa, a position supported by the leader of the ÖVP, Christine Marek. Rahman believes that each woman should have the right to choose for herself, though personally she does not understand why someone would choose to wear a burqa. She finds the current debate on integration to be superfluous, while she understands that right-wing voters have legitimate fears, and initiatives need to be taken to dispel those fears. Though Rahman has no chance of joining the local council due to her position on the list, she says she finds the idea exciting, were the opportunity to present itself.

Muslim woman sues political party for inciting hatred

A Muslim woman from Almere is suing a local politician, Raymond de Roon, for discrimination and inciting hatred. De Roon is the local leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), a party whose aim is to ban headscarves in publicly funded institutions. It is unclear whether such a ban will occur, as no other political faction supports the PVV on this point.

National Front called to remove its “Anti-Islamism” posters

The National Front has been ordered to remove its “No to Islamism” posters distributed by the youth movement of the French political party because they were deemed “provocative of a sentiment of rejection and animosity” and aimed at “youth who are easily influenced”. The National Front must remove all traces of the posters within 24 hours of the judgment, with a fine of 500 Euros per day of delay.

The Muslim party ‘signs up’ a Christian woman as their leader in Catalonia

PRUNE (Partido Renacimiento y Unión de España) has elected a Christian woman as a leader in Catalonia. PRUNE is a political party lead by Mostafa Bakkach, a Spaniard with Moroccan origins. PRUNE members have a different type of political ideology; with different religious skills and they are open to considering everyone who wishes to participate in this new project based on Islam for moral and ethical regeneration of the Spanish society. The party is working on the expansion of their ideas with a high participation of women in its leadership. PRUNE is particularly focused on the reform of public administration to avoid corruption and as well as limiting the banking interests’ rates.