The swearing in of the 113th Congress Thursday ushers in some religious firsts for the legislature, with a House seat for Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu congresswoman and Mazie Hirono, the first Buddhist senator. For a country settled on a desire for religious freedom, the American government has a history of being almost homogenous with respect to religion. For most federal representatives, the question isn't whether or not you're Christian but what sect of Christianity you follow.
Less than half a century ago it was almost unthinkable for some that a Catholic could win the presidency.
But just as leaders have broken racial and gender barriers over the years, so too are non-Christian candidates plunging forward.
Former Deputy Historian for the House of Representatives Fred Beuttler pointed to the 110th Congress as the greatest win for religious plurality. That's the year Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Mich. – a Muslim – and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii – both Buddhists – were elected.
Hirono is vacating her House seat this year to become Hawaii's representative in the Senate, the first Buddhist to serve in that chamber. And the woman taking her place, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, will be the first Hindu congresswoman in U.S. history.