HINDU INVOCATION IN CONGRESS
The Hindu prayer:
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
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
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
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:
|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.|
|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. |
|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,
This definition of "Paganism" includes Agnosticism,
Taoism, etc. About 45% of the people of
the world are Pagans, by this definition.|
|The term "Pagan" is
sometimes used in other contexts, such as:
|a religion which
is other than Christianity and Judaism.|
general-purpose religious snarl word used to refer to any
religion which is to be ridiculed or hated.|
followed by modern-day primitive societies.|
|Religious pluralism has two main meanings:
|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. |
|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.
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
- "Brown welcomes Northeast Ohio Hindu priest as guest chaplain in
- Personal FAX from FRC Legal Studies department, 2000-SEP-26.
- "Religious 'Pluralism' or Tolerance?", Q&A section, Culture
Facts, Family Research Council web site. It was accessible to
subscribers at http://www.frc.org/papers/culturefacts/index.cfm,
but has since been deleted from the FRC web site.
- Derived from: Webster's New World Dictionary: Third college edition.
Page 1040, definition 3-a.
- "Family issues group clarifies stance on Hindu prayer,"
Maranatha Christian News Service, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00b/20000925d.htm
- Chuck Donovan, "Family Research Council issues clarification of
article on prayer before Congress," News release,
2000-SEP-22. Temporarily available at: http://www.frc.org/press/index.cfm?
Copyright � 2000 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-SEP-28
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson