Historic Religious Firsts in the 113th U.S. Congress

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 5, 2013 — 9 Comments

This week the 113th Congress of the United States of America convened, and while this is a routine part of our government’s normal functioning, both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate saw some historic firsts that should appeal to those hoping for a more religiously diverse representative body. Perhaps the most high-profile is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, and the first person to swear their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

In addition to Gabbard, Sen. Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, became the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate (she had already served in the House), and the first Asian-American female senator.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

“I don’t have a book […] But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty […] It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress…”Sen. Mazie Hirono (in 2007)

A third first comes from Arizona where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also happens to be the first explicitly religious “none” elected to Congress.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, is religiously unaffiliated but does not describe herself as an atheist. Her campaign was unavailable for comment to Whispers due to the swearing in, but spokesman Justin Unga told the Religion News Service in November that Sinema favors a “secular approach.” He told the New York Times the same month that Sinema “believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

There are other interesting religious facts about the 113th Congress, but I think these three women are representative of the shifts happening in the United States right now. Specifically the rise of “nones” who aren’t necessarily atheists, but also don’t claim a religious identity,  and the ongoing growth of non-Christian minority religions. We are fast approaching the day where hot-button moral issues in this country can no longer be discussed solely within a Judeo-Christian context, and we are already seeing the end of the “white Christian strategy” in national politics. It’s a new dawn, one that started with the November elections, and is now enacted with this new Congress.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Chris Boydston Taub

    I live in Kyrsten’s district. I know she got elected because she was well-known and very active in a lot of projects here in Arizona. Her opponent was this odd, far-right tea party candidate who made some outrageous promises and claims that scared away the voters for the most part. I voted for Sinema because of her ties to social work, but I’m glad to see that someone with alternative views is still accepted by the mainstream voters.

  • Ursyl

    Wonderful to have lived to see the start of the First Amendment freedoms reaching into the federal level of our representative government.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I would suggest the new dawn started four years ago with the election of the first African American US President.
    It would be nice to see the day when hot-button moral issues are no longer dicussed solely within a Judaeo-Christian context, but the fact is that most of our hot-button moral issues arise from within the Judaeo-Christian comtext. The only exception I can think of, at least within the bullet-vote zone, is Second Amendment issues.

  • As Nixon’s “Silent Majority” slowly dies off, their worst nightmares are coming true right before their eyes.

  • Sharon Knight

    This is wonderful news! Thank you for sharing it.

  • cernowain greenman

    Who will be the first Pagan Congressperson?

  • I’m surprised — shocked even — that Jason did not pick up on how Sinema was labeled as a “Pagan hippie” by her opponents. http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/freshmen-bring-new-faiths-to-congress/