The 112 Congress was a lot of things — slow to productivity, rich in obstinacy, and at times less popular than Communism. But the 113th, which convenes for the first time today, adds one more upbeat distinction to our nation’s governing body: It’s the most diverse in American history.
The new, 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.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) becomes the Senate’s first Buddhist. Although she does not currently practice, according to reports, she has said, “I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty.”
Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) grew up Mormon but does not identify with any particular faith, making her Congress’ first official “none,” although others have declined to describe their beliefs. Read Manuel Roig-Franzia’s in-depth look at how Sinema describes her beliefs, sexuality and values here.
Pew also gives some background on the religious history of Congress, include explainers on the other “firsts”:
The first Jewish member arrived in 1845, when Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party began representing Pennsylvania in the House. The first Mormon in Congress, John Milton Bernhisel, began serving in 1851, after Utah was officially recognized as a territory. California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, the first and so far only Sikh to serve in Congress, served three terms starting in 1957.