NPR Bewails Lack of 'Nonreligious' Americans in Congress

Danielle Kurtzleben played up in a Tuesday item for NPR's website that "just one of the 535 members of the new Congress" is nonreligious. Kurtzleben underlined that "the nation's top legislative body remains far more male and white than the rest of the U.S. population...but religion is one of the more invisible areas where legislators in Washington simply aren't representative of the people they represent." However, the correspondent later revealed that this members of this demographic hold some responsibility for this under-representation.

Kurtzleben led her article, "Nonreligious Americans Remain Far Underrepresented In Congress," by highlighting that "one in five Americans is religiously unaffiliated." She continued with her "far more male and white" phrase about the legislative body, but only after noting that just one member out of both chambers of Congress is "nonreligious." Kurtzleben identified this lone legislator — Arizona Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema — and hyped that this standout "means only 0.2 percent of Congress is unaffiliated, compared with 23 percent of U.S. adults."

The NPR journalist, who previously worked for the left-wing Vox.com, touted that nonreligious demographic is "faster-growing than any religious group in America, as Pew found in 2015." She added that "meanwhile, nearly 91 percent of congressional members are Christian, compared with 71 percent of U.S. adults." She then spent several paragraphs explaining the disparity:

Why the massive gap? For one, religiously unaffiliated people tend to be young, and Congress just isn't that young. In the 114th Congress, the average age for House members was 57 years old and for senators it was 61. (To a modest extent, this is a reflection of age rules: Senators must be 30 or older, and representatives have to be at least 25.)

But groups that identify as "nothing in particular," agnostic and atheist — the three groups that make up the unaffiliated in Pew's definition — are among the youngest "religious" groups in America. So it may be that once Americans start electing more millennials to Congress, there will be a greater share of nonreligious people elected as well.

Kurtzleben revealed in this middle of this explanation that "younger Americans tend to have much lower voting rates than older people." She tried to minimize this, however, by contending that "if...the (relatively young) religiously unaffiliated population isn't voting as much, and if the religiously unaffiliated are more drawn to likewise unaffiliated politicians — that could also help explain the lack of 'nones' in Congress." The writer added that "one more potential reason unaffiliated people aren't in power: Not being affiliated often also means not being politically cohesive."

Near the end of her write-up, the correspondent detailed how "Americans remain at least somewhat open to atheist officeholders." She cited a June 2015 Gallup poll that found that "fifty-eight percent of Americans would vote for an atheist." However, Kurtzleben emphasized that this is "very low compared with Jews and Mormons...and the numbers altogether suggest that America's nonreligious have a long way to go before they become mainstream as politicians." She concluded that "being nonreligious is still not a big selling point for many voters."


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