The 2012 election caused quite a shakeup in Congress with the induction of its new class, allowing it to become one of the most diverse in U.S. history.
Not only has Congress inducted more women, minorities and members of the LGBT community than ever before, but it also welcomed a Buddhist, a non-Theist, a Hindu, and a Unitarian Universalist. According to an October Pew Research Center Study, the shift in Congress follows changing religious attitudes in America.
About one-fifth of the U.S. public doesn't affiliate themselves with any religion making them more tolerant to voting people with varied backgrounds into office.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed her optimism in the change and was fully committed to the notion that the diversity will only benefit Americans.
“There’s something very important in having other thinking, whether it’s gender, whether it’s ethnic, whether it’s regional, whether it’s generational, to have a mixture of thinking at the table. It makes the product better, but it also gives people hope outside who say there’s somebody there who understands my aspirations, my challenges.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, who broke religious barriers when he became the only Muslim elected to Congress in 2007, spoke candidly to msnbc’s Richard Lui on Jansing & Co. Friday about the sudden mix of religion and politics.
“I think it’s because people are participating, people are engaged in our Democratic process,” he said. “America is more open and tolerant than it has ever been in its history. I think folks want to be a part of this great American experiment.”
Lui noted other religious milestones in American history, such as John F. Kennedy becoming the first Catholic elected president and Mitt Romney running as the first Mormon presidential candidate.
“Most people believe in inclusion but there is a vocal minority who always lets us know that they’re there trying to divide people on the basis of religion, and unfortunately, we can’t ignore them,” Ellison added. “But fortunately, they don’t rule the day.”
Ellison explained that members of Congress should work together to stand up against religious bigotry.
“Since I’ve been in Congress I’ve been called upon by friends on both sides of the aisle to tell them a little more about what Islam’s about,” he said. “I expect newer members will be called upon to explain their way of living and seeing the world, too. But I think we can’t just be there together; we’ve got to benefit from being there together and that means we’ve got to talk and we’ve got to communicate."