Number of Non-Believers in Congress Increase

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 5 2013 4:55 PM

Number of Lawmakers Who Don’t Identify With a Religion Is on the Rise

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A 16-foot cross planted in front of the US Capitol is displayed as part of a 2008 prayer vigil

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The number is hardly huge but it still marks quite the change from three decades ago. In the early 1980s, not a single member of Congress publicly said he or she didn’t belong to a particular religious affiliation or refused to disclose their religion. In the 113th Congress, that number has increased to 10, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.  Even though around one-in-five U.S. adults describe themselves as atheist, agnostic of “nothing in particular,” only one member of the new Congress has publicly taken on that label. But 10 other members of the 113th Congress, or around 2 percent, “do not specify a religious affiliation,” marking an increase from six members from the previous Congress.

“The numbers here caught my eye,” writes Politico’s Charles Mahtesian, “not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it.” Religious affiliation for politicians without a religion is a very sensitive issue but the Pew poll seems to show 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,” writes Mahtesian.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.