Religious revolution: Buddhist and Hindu Congress members make history


Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii's congressional candidate, will be speaking at the Democratic National Convention. If elected, the 31-year-old Iraq War veteran would be the first Hindu-American in Congress.


TulsiGabbard @ Twitter

The United States didn't elect its first Mormon president on Tuesday, but it did vote its first Buddhist into the Senate, and its first Hindu into Congress.

Hawaiian Democrat and Japanese Buddhist Mazie Hirono was elevated from the House of Representatives to the Senate on Tuesday, beating Republican opponent Linda Lingle in a 61.7 percent to 36.8 percent split, according to Hawaii News Now.

Buddhists have served in the House of Representatives before, but the election of Hirono to office is a new high for adherents of the faith. After all, this isn't Hirono's first breakthrough: She was the first Buddhist to serve in the House in 2006.

Hirono was joined in that year by Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat and a member of Soka Gakkai International — and both were re-elected in 2008.

Meanwhile, fellow Hawaiian and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard was elected to the House of Representatives, the first time a Hindu has served in the Congress. The 31-year-old Gabbard won by a commanding 76.9 percent margin, beating out opponent Kawika Crowley for Hawaii's District 2, said Hawaii News Now.

"Although there are not very many Hindus in Hawaii, I never felt discriminated against. I never really gave it a second thought growing up that any other reality existed, or that it was not the same everywhere," said Gabbard in a statement after her victory was sealed, according to the New York Daily News.

Read more from GlobalPost: What Obama's win means to the rest of the world

America has come a long way. During John F. Kennedy's election campaign, he was often forced to publicly defend his at-the-time-questionable Catholicism, running as the second-ever Catholic presidential candidate in United States history.

Although the US has yet to elect a Jewish president, followers of that religious tradition are well represented in government. There are 12 Jewish people in the US Senate, and 23 in the House of Representatives, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council. The first Jewish Senator, David Levy Yulee, was elected in Florida all the way back in 1845, according to the Jewish Digital Library.

What about Muslims? According to the Pew Forum, there are currently two Muslims in Congress, or about 0.4 percent of Congress. That's not out of alignment with the rest of the US, where Muslims make up about 0.6 percent of the population. Keith Ellison was the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, a black Minnesota Democrat.

Those unaffiliated with any religion are represented in government, too: 6 Congressional members stated "Don't Know/Refused" in the Pew Forum survey.