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The Hindu prayer:

On 2000-SEP-14, A Hindu priest, Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala of the Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple in Parma, OH, opened a session of the U.S. House of Representatives with a prayer. He was the first Hindu to do so. Representative Sherrod Brown, (D- OH) had invited Mr. Samuldrala as a guest chaplain, said: "Today is a great day for Indian-American relations. India and the United States share the bonds of history and culture. I requested the House Chaplain invite Mr. Samuldrala to give today's prayer as a testimony to the religious diversity that is the hallmark of our nation. Mr. Salmuldrala's prayer reminds us that while we may differ in culture and traditions, we are alike in the basic aspiration for peace and righteousness." 1

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Initial response by the Family Research Council:

Robert E. Regier and Timothy J. Dailey wrote an essay about the prayer. It  appeared on SEP-21 in the Culture Facts section of the Family Research Council's web site. It was also Emailed or mailed to the subscribers of Culture Facts, a weekly newsletter. The FRC is a Washington DC-based, Fundamentalist Christian agency. It was spun-off from the Colorado Springs CO-based Focus on the Family many years ago. According to a Fax received from the FRC Legal Studies section, this essay "failed to go though [sic] our full editing process, which would have removed any statements inconsistant [sic] with FRC's [official] position." 2

The essay was part of a "Q&A" section labeled "Religious Pluralism or Tolerance?" It included a question from a member of the public: 

"A Hindu priest was recently invited to give the opening invocation it the House of Representative. What's wrong with this?"

Regier and Dailey's answer was, in part: 

"What's wrong is that it is one more indication that our nation is drifting from its Judeo-Christian roots...Alas, in our day, when 'tolerance' and 'diversity' have replaced the 10 Commandments as the only remaining absolute dictums, it has become necessary to 'celebrate' non-Christian religions - even in the halls of Congress...Our founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate people's consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.

Many people today confuse traditional Western religious tolerance with religious pluralism. The former embraces biblical truth while allowing for freedom of conscience, while the latter assumes all religions are equally valid, resulting in  moral relativism and ethical chaos...
" 3

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Meaning of terms:

At least two words in the above essay have multiple meanings. This is not an unusual situation. The field of religion probably has more multiply-defined terms than any other area of human interest. The term "cult," for example, has at least nine meanings, ranging from positive to very negative. "Witch" has at least 17, of which two pairs are mutually exclusive. This is a profoundly confusing situation. Any lecturer, teleminister or writer who uses one of these ambiguous words can be certain that many in their audience will interpret the word in a very different sense than it was intended.  Often, conservative Christians will assign one definition to a term, whereas most others will use a different meaning. This is particularly common with terms used in controversial topics, like abortion and homosexuality.  If this trend continues, it will make dialog among representatives of different wings of Christianity very difficult. 

In the essay above two ambiguous words were used: 

bullet Paganism
bullet The most common definition on the Internet is: Wicca or other Neopagan religion. The first 14 hits on the Google search engine all returned this meaning: Wicca is a recently created religion based, in part, on the religious deities, symbols, seasonal days of celebration, etc. of the ancient Celts. A Wiccan is a follower of Wicca. Neopaganism is a family of modern faith traditions, each of which has been recently reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. Followers of a Neopagan religion often refer to themselves as Pagans or Neopagans.
bullet The most common definition used by conservative Christian is: an ancient, defunct polytheistic religion, such as faiths once followed by the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, etc. Five of the first six hits on the Goshen search engine returned this meaning. 
bullet The meaning that is presumably used in the FRC essay is: a non-Abrahamic religion. That is, it is a major religion that does not recognize Abraham as a patriarch -- it is other than Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This definition of "Paganism" includes Agnosticism, Atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Humanism, Taoism, etc. About 45% of the people of the world are Pagans, by this definition.
bullet The term "Pagan" is sometimes used in other contexts, such as:
bullet a religion which is other than Christianity and Judaism.
bullet a general-purpose religious snarl word used to refer to any religion which is to be ridiculed or hated.
bullet a religion followed by modern-day primitive societies.
bullet Religious pluralism has two main meanings:
bullet The concept that all religions are equally right and valid. [This belief is probably held by a minority of North Americans. Although we have never seen confirming data, it is probable that many, if not most, adults feel that their own personal spiritual or religious path is true whereas other belief systems are at least partly in error. 
bullet A synonym of "religious diversity" -- the fact of "the existence within a country or society of religiously distinct groups." 4 It is a fact that both the U.S. and Canada are religiously pluralistic nations. North Americans do follow a variety of religions: Christianity, Humanism, Islam, Judaism, Wicca and hundreds of other faith traditions.

We recommend that neither Paganism nor religious pluralism term be used, because of the probability of confusion among readers or listeners. If such a term must be used, then we recommend that it be carefully pre-defined.

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Reaction to the Q&A essay:

Bridget Fisher, spokesperson for Rep. Sherrod Brown said that it is "unfortunate that the Family Research Council interprets the Constitution to say that religious freedom means Christian supremacy.

According to Maranatha Christian Journal, "media criticism" triggered a FRC clairification. 5 According to a private Fax from the FRC, they "were aware of only one small Associate [sic] Press article, which was not particularly critical. The 'Q&A' article was removed and the correction issued because it incorrectly stated one of our fundamental policy positions.

FRC's Executive Vice President, Chuck Donovan, responded on SEP-22 with a press release containing a clarification. He said: "It is the position of the Family Research Council that governments must respect freedom of conscience for all people in religious matters ... We affirm the truth of Christianity, but it is not our position that American's Constitution forbids representatives of religions other than Christianity from praying before Congress.... He concluded with a concern about attempts to remove religion from public life. He pointed out FRC's support for U.S. religious freedom legislation. He deplored anti-Christian persecution around the world. 6

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  1. "Brown welcomes Northeast Ohio Hindu priest as guest chaplain in House,"
  2. Personal FAX from FRC Legal Studies department, 2000-SEP-26.
  3. "Religious 'Pluralism' or Tolerance?", Q&A section, Culture Facts, Family Research Council web site. It was accessible to subscribers at, but has since been deleted from the FRC web site.  
  4. Derived from: Webster's New World Dictionary: Third college edition. Page 1040, definition 3-a. 
  5. "Family issues group clarifies stance on Hindu prayer," Maranatha Christian News Service, at:
  6. Chuck Donovan, "Family Research Council issues clarification of article on prayer before Congress,"  News release, 2000-SEP-22. Temporarily available at:

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Hinduism > here

Site navigation: Home page > Religious intolerance > Worldwide > here

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Copyright 2000 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-SEP-28
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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