What Congress Believes

Back in August, Buzzfeed released a series of maps reflecting the religious identifications of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the article, 31 religious traditions (and 26 variations of Christianity) are represented among the members of the House. Catholics lead the way, claiming 136 members of the House, followed by four major Protestant denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian).

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Here are some highlights from the maps:

  • Of Hawaii’s two members, Colleen Hanabusa is a Buddhist and Tulsi Gabbard is the first and only Hindu to serve in the House.
  • Mormon representation is almost exclusively in Utah and Idaho, with a few members in California and Arizona claiming the Mormon tradition. In addition, Utah and Idaho are the only states with more than one seat to be represented by members claiming a single religious tradition.
  • There are two Muslim members of the House:  Keith Ellison, Minnesota and Andre Carson, Indiana; Ellison was the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, followed by Carson in 2008.
  • Catholics dominate the Christian representation of the House, both as the largest group and the most wide-spread

There are two points I think these maps raise – the first, that “separation of church and state” is not as easy as it may sound; with only 7 out of 435 representatives identifying as Unspecified/None, religious beliefs have a strong presence in Congress. Those who identity as Unspecified/None make decisions are just as influenced by their lack of religious identification than those who claim Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The second point is that the distribution of religious traditions reveals cultural characteristics of the United States. If Mormon members of the House are concentrated in Idaho and Utah, it tells us these states are hubs for Mormon voters. When we learn that the Southern U.S. is represented in the House by Christians almost exclusively, it comes as no surprise that the first Hindu and first two Muslim members of the House were elected in Hawaii and the Mid-West.
Check out the maps for yourself, and see what religion your House Representative claims – are you really being represented?

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