Tulsi Gabbard, Mazie Hirono Break Congressional Barriers for Non-Christians


Another new congresswoman, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has been described as an atheist or nontheist.

Sinema is not an atheist; she simply does not belong to any organized religion. She'll be one of a handful of non-affiliated representatives in Congress. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., is leaving Congress after losing a bid for reelection. He was the first public nontheist in the body in recent years.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said nonreligious people are becoming an important part of the American electorate as their numbers "skyrocket."

The Pew Research Center reported in October that one in five American adults described themselves as having no religious affiliation, up from about 15 percent in 2007. The percentage of Christians dropped from 78 percent to 73 percent over those years.

"The plethora of different types of religious belief that we're starting to see in the electorate, as well as in Congress, as well as other offices, is so important because it helps people realize that this isn't a Christian nation," Speckhardt said. "It never really was, but that is becoming a lot clearer today."

During the 2012 campaign, Congresswoman-elect Gabbard took some heat for her religion. In an interview on CNN, her opponent said her beliefs don't align with the U.S. constitution. But McCoy said Gabbard refused to get caught up in that issue.

Now that the race is over, Gabbard is directing the public away from her personal beliefs.

"While I understand all of the interest about my being the first Hindu elected to Congress, I feel that of greater importance is the fact that Tammy Duckworth and I will be the first women combat veterans ever to serve in Congress in our country's history," Gabbard wrote to ABC News in an email in November. "Thousands and thousands of women in our armed forces have given their lives and made tremendous sacrifices, so to have the voice of women combat veterans in Congress is a very important milestone."

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