113th Congress Most Religiously Diverse Ever — and Why It Matters

By Dwayne Leslie

The U.S. Senate's current focus on potential filibuster reform spotlights an important question: Where do the rights of minority groups begin and end?

While context always is important, the 113th Congress also presents another fascinating way to consider this question, given that it is the most religiously diverse ever. How amazing that the first Hindu and first Buddhist ever elected to Congress achieved that status in the same election! Additionally, Dr. Raul Ruiz (CA-36) became just the fifth Seventh-day Adventist to be elected to Congress.

We are reminded again about America's wonderfully unique status as a melting pot. As a place where one's religious faith should never be an impediment to achievement. Yet the question remains: How will these (and other) non-mainstream voices be treated in the upcoming Congress? Will their views be sought out by House and Senate leaders interested in addressing the needs of minority constituencies? Or will they be largely ignored or, worse yet, muted?

Congressman Ruiz's election coincides with an important milestone for the faith to which he subscribes: The Seventh-day Adventist church turns 150 years old in 2013.

As a relatively little-known faith (though rapidly growing both in the U.S. and around the world), the Adventists are no strangers to being in the religious minority. Perhaps that is part of the reason the church always has fought for religious liberty; for protecting the "freedom of conscience for all people."

Today, the Adventist church remains perhaps the staunchest defender of religious liberty around the world and a leading proponent advocating for separation of church and state. Having often found itself fighting for the rights of the oppressed against those entities that would dictate in matters of conscience and suppress freedom of religion, there is much about the Adventist church for other people of faith to also join in celebrating as the church commemorates this significant milestone.

As the new Congress prepares to be sworn in, we can all hope -- and pray -- that those who would lead us will actively protect and benefit from the perspectives of those who hail from other walks of religious life.

The more voices, the more diverse points of view heard from, the better the chances we can collectively continue to ensure the ability for all people to follow their conscience. Together we thrive.

This article orginally appeared in the Huffington Post on January 9, 2013