Religious Diversity in the 2013 Congress

It is hard to call Congress religiously diverse, but here are the few who bring diversity to the group:


Tulsi Gabbard

1st Hindu Congresswoman

U.S. House of Representatives

Hawaii’s 2nd District

Tulsi Gabbard was born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, the fourth of five children of Mike Gabbard and Carol Porter Gabbard. Her family moved to Hawaii in 1983 when Tulsi was two. Tulsi grew up in a multicultural, multi-religious household. Her father is of Samoan/Caucasian heritage and is a practicing Catholic who is a lector at his church, but also likes to practice mantra meditation, including kirtan.[10] Her mother is Caucasian and a practicing Hindu.[10] Tulsi fully embraced Hinduism as a teenager.[10]

The Gabbard family homeschooled Tulsi through high school, excepting two years that she attended a girls-only missionary academy in the Philippines.[11] Gabbard graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in international business in 2009.[12][13][14



Keith Ellison

Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives from the 58B District

Keith Ellison, the third of five sons, was born and raised Roman Catholic[5] in Detroit, Michigan, by his parents, Clida (née Martinez) and Leonard Ellison, a social worker and a psychiatrist, respectively.[3][6][7] Ellison and three of his siblings became lawyers; his other sibling became a doctor. One of Ellison’s brothers is also the pastor of the Baptist “Church of the New Covenant” in Detroit.[6] Ellison’s youth was influenced by the involvement of his family in the civil rights movement, including his grandfather’s work as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana.[3]


Ellison (left) volunteering with Rabbi Steve Gutow (right) at the DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. in September, 2007[8]

Ellison graduated in 1981 from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, where he was active in sports and a senator in the student government.[6][9] At age 19, while attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam, later giving the following explanation: “I can’t claim that I was the most observant Catholic at the time [of my conversion]. I had begun to really look around and ask myself about the social circumstances of the country, issues of justice, issues of change. When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society… I found Islam.”[10][11][12][13]

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in economics in 1987, Ellison married his high-school sweetheart[5] and moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. While there, he wrote several articles in support of Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Ellison graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1990.[14][15]

Ellison and his former wife Kim, a high-school mathematics teacher,[16] had four children between 1989 and 1997:[17] a daughter, Amirah, and three sons, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Isaiah.[16] Kim Ellison is not Muslim, but their four children have been raised in that faith.[18] During Ellison’s 2006 campaign, Kim Ellison revealed that she had been living with moderate multiple sclerosis for several years.[19] Ellison filed for a legal separation from Kim in 2010,[20] and their divorce was finalized on May 2, 2012.[21]

After law school, Ellison worked for three years at the firm of Lindquist & Vennum, where he was a litigator specializing in civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law.[14][17] Ellison then became executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, which specializes in the defense of indigent clients.[17] Upon leaving the Legal Rights Center, Ellison entered private practice with the law firm Hassan & Reed Ltd, specializing in trial practice.[22] Ellison has also been regularly involved in community service. He served as the unpaid host of a public affairs talk program at KMOJ radio,[17] and has also often volunteered as a track coach for several organizations, working with youth between the ages of 5 and 18. He said, “It’s a great community-building device because it’s for all ages and all genders. Everyone can find a way to fit in.”[17]


Peter Stark


U.S. House of Representatives

California’s 13th District

Stark was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in general engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.[8] He served in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1957. After leaving the Air Force, Stark attended the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his MBA in 1960. Stark originally lived in the Bay Area, but ultimately relocated to Maryland. He primarily resides in his Maryland home with his family but still maintains a residence in the California district he represents, visiting his constituents twice per month.[9]

In 1963, Stark founded Security National Bank, a small bank in Walnut Creek. Within 10 years it grew into a billion-dollar bank with branches across Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Stark grew up as a Republican, but his opposition to the Vietnam War led him to switch parties in the mid-1960s. He printed checks with peace signs on them and placed a giant peace sign on the roof of his bank’s headquarters.


Mazie Hirono

Non-practicing Buddhist

U.S. House of Representatives

Hawaii’s 2nd District

Mazie Keiko Hirono (メイジー・ヒロノ, Meijī Hirono?, Japanese name: 広野 慶子 Hirono Keiko, born November 3, 1947) is the junior United States Senator from Hawaii, in office since 2013. Hirono, a member of the Democratic Party, previously served as a member of the United States House of Representatives for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district from 2007 to 2013. She was Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii from 1994 to 2002, serving under Governor Ben Cayetano, and a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1985 to 1995.

She is the first elected female Senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first U.S. Senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist Senator. She considers herself a non-practicing Buddhist,[1][2] and is often cited with Hank Johnson as the first Buddhist to serve in the United States Congress.[3] She is the third woman to be elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii (after Patsy Mink and Pat Saiki). Hirono was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Daniel Akaka. Hirono won the election defeating former Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican in a landslide victory (Hirono’s 63% to Lingle’s 37%). Hirono was sworn in as Hawaii’s first female United States Senator on January 3, 2013 by the Vice President and President of the Senate, Joe Biden.