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New politicians could lead to change in religious freedom

The lawmakers of Capitol Hill make up one of the most religiously diverse Congresses in history, with 97 new members joining the 437 incumbents, a new study from the Pew Research Center says.

Members of the 116th Congress were sworn in on Jan. 3. including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D), the first two Muslim women to serve. Omar and Tlaib were both sworn in by taking the oath on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D), who is the first religiously unaffiliated member of the upper chamber, was sworn in on a copy of the Constitution.

“There has been a 3-percentage-point decline in the share of members of Congress who identify as Christian,” according to a study by Pew Research Center. “In the 115th Congress, 91 percent of members were Christian, while in the 116th, 88 percent are Christian.”

Although there has been a decline in the representation of Christians in Congress, they are still over-represented in comparison to rest of the country. At the same time, Congress is three times more Jewish than the public, Pew said.

A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans may be more doubtful when it comes to electing non-Christian politicians compared to leaders from racial and ethnic minority groups. The survey reports that 44 percent of Americans think electing people to office from racial and ethnic minority groups would make the country better, while only 24 percent believe that about electing people from non-Christian religious groups.

The new makeup of Congress may lead voters to wonder if this means Congress will pass more laws in support of religious freedom.

“Ideally, the religious affiliations of Congress members wouldn’t matter because they’re basing policy decisions on secular ideals, anyway,” according to Sarahbeth Caplin, a writer for the blog Friendly Atheist. “When minority faiths and non-religious people don’t have more voices in government, we rely on Christians to defend our rights.”

“This Congress could lead to more protection of other religions,” said Dean Davis, a junior studying accounting.

Others find that the religious diversity of Congress may have little positive effect.

“I don’t think the issues with religious freedom are going uphill,” said Pierce Lewis, a freshman studying general education.

Although Article VI of the Constitution doesn’t allow religious tests of those running for office, individuals can still impose religious tests. Some voters may choose to only vote for those of their religion.

“If a politician supports groups that are against religious freedom, then I don’t think that is good for our country,” Lewis said.

“Some lawmakers have said anti-Semitic things, and I don’t agree with that,” Davis said. “If they support anti-Semitic groups, then I don’t like that.”

Besides Congress, the Supreme Court has also seen new change that may affect religious freedom. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were both appointed by President Donald Trump.

“Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh are both good at supporting religious freedom,” Davis said. “I think we will be seeing more religious freedom cases taken to the Supreme Court.”

One case, in particular, that will be reviewed by the Supreme Court on Feb. 27 is The American Legion, et al. v. American Humanist Association. This case could allow the Supreme Court to reinterpret the First Amendment in regards to the establishment clause, or freedom of religion.


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