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110th Congress features Baptists, notable religious firstscomment (0)

January 4, 2007

Baptists of all stripes are featured prominently in leadership of the 110th Congress, which itself features some religious firsts.

As both chambers pass from Republican into Democratic hands, several Baptists have been elevated to leadership positions in both chambers and both parties.

And, for the first time, a Muslim and two Buddhists swear to uphold the Constitution and take their seats in Congress.

The new Congress includes 68 Baptists — 61 in the House and 7 in the Senate — according to figures compiled by Albert Menendez. This puts Baptists second in number to Roman Catholics, who hold 154 seats in Congress.

Menendez, from Maryland, has been compiling data on the religious affiliations of Congress members for religious-freedom advocacy groups since 1972.

In the House, a Baptist fills the second-ranking leadership post. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., has been elected as the House Majority Leader. He serves under incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In the Senate, the second-ranking leader is also a Baptist. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the Senate’s longest-serving member, is the chamber’s president pro tempore. The position means he is third in the line of succession for the presidency, should the president, vice president and speaker of the house become incapacitated.

Byrd serves under new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid is the first Mormon to serve as majority leader in the chamber.

Baptists also feature prominently in the new minority leadership positions. In the Senate, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell serves as minority leader, while his Mississippi colleague Trent Lott serves as minority whip. Lott is a former Senate majority leader.

In the House, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., serves as minority whip. Blunt is an active Baptist who was president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., before being elected to Congress.

Incoming Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. His decision to take his oath of allegiance on the Quran — rather than a Christian or Hebrew Bible, as is typical for incoming members of Congress — became controversial after a prominent conservative radio host decried it.

In a column for the conservative Townhall.com Web site, Dennis Prager said Ellison "should not be allowed to do so" because swearing on anything but the Bible "undermines American civilization."

The new House also features Congress’ first Buddhists — incoming Reps. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Hank Johnson, D-Ga. Their religious affiliation was not publicized in their campaigns.  (ABP)

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