Today the 114th Congress will be sworn in. A Pew Research survey indicates that 92% of the new Congress is Christian, while only 73% of American adults are. Does it matter that Christians are disproportionately represented in Congress? Yes and no, but mostly no.
Electing members of minority faiths sends an important message that all of us are equally American regardless of religious perspective. It makes real the constitutional ban on a religious test for office, and may offer confidence to Americans of all faiths that their religious views will be respected. And congressional diversity also helps belie the persistent myth that America is somehow a “Christian nation.”
However, Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress are not elected as representatives of their faith. They were not elected to represent the interests of only those constituents who share their religious views. Congressmen and women are sent to Washington to represent all constituents regardless of their religion, or lack of religion.
In today’s ceremony, members of Congress will swear to uphold and protect the rights of all Americans, including our religious liberty rights. Can a Christian representative do that as well as anyone? Of course. So too a Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or atheist member of Congress. What matters most is not whether the religious makeup of Congress reflects all of America, but whether the Congress protects the religious liberty of all Americans.
As this new Congress begins its work, we should be vigilant in holding them accountable to that charge. In terms of protecting religious liberty, what Congress privately believes is less important than what they do.