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Opinion: In Gods they trust, new study finds of House and Senate members

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When the 111th Congress convenes on Jan. 6, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus will be underrepresented in its membership.

No shocker there perhaps. But a new analysis of incoming members’ religious affiliations by the Pew Forum indicates there’s no small measure of change in Congress’ religious ties: It’s much more diverse than just half a century ago.

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Yeh, sure, those Protestants still form a majority of these high-paid talkers (54.7%), slightly more than their 51% of the population. (But way down from the 74.1% of 1961.)

Pew finds that other religious followers -- Catholics, Jews and Mormons -- are actually overrepresented in Congress. (Quick, who’s the highest-ranking Mormon there? Answer below.)

Catholics make up 30% of Congress, better than their population percentage of just under 25%. Baptists are next largest at 12.4% of members when they make up 17.2% of the adult population.

Now, watch out for the Methodists, who are apparently on a methodical march, constituting 10.7% of the members when they’re only 6.2% of the population. (By the way, 100% of the outgoing first family are Methodists. The incoming first family lists its religious affiliation as ‘Christian,’ as will be represented in the two pastors participating in the Jan. 20 inauguration.)

Jews make up only 1.7% of the U.S. adult population but 8.4% of congressional members, including 13% of senators, which, come to think of it, means 13 senators. Mormons are 1.7% of the population and 2.6% of members. Episcopalians, 1.5% population and 7.1% members. Presbyterians, 2.7% population, 8.1% members, according to the new Pew analysis.

As this fall’s congressional economic bailout bill revealed, members of all religions really like pork.

No Hindus have served in Congress yet, and California’s own Democratic Rep. Pete Stark is the first and only member of Congress to publicly declare no faith in a supreme being.

There are two Muslims in Congress now and two Buddhists, plus one Quaker.

For the purposes of the Pew study, ‘Washington Redskins’ was classified a ‘faith,’ not an official religion.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Answer: The highest-ranking Mormon in Congress is Happy Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader from Nevada.


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