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Religious Tolerance logo

Three Christians disrupt Hindu prayer in Senate 

Previous Hindu prayer in the House;
Opposition prior to the Senate prayer

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2000-SEP: An earlier Hindu prayer, at the House of Representatives:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) described a controversy over a prayer given before the house on 2000-SEP-14:

"When a Hindu priest opened the session of the House of Representatives on Sept. 14, 2000, the Family Research Council sprung into action and showed its true bigoted colors."

" '[W]hile it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage,' read an article in an FRC newsletter."

"Asserted the FRC, 'As for our Hindu priest friend, the United States is a nation that has historically honored the One True God. Woe be to us on that day when we relegate Him to being merely one among countless other deities in the pantheon of theologies'."

"The FRC went on to equate Hinduism with PaganismReligious pluralism, the FRC asserted, leads to 'moral relativism and ethical chaos'."

"Somehow, the country survived Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala’s prayer that day. And when Americans United exposed the group’s bigotry, the FRC found itself being hounded by reporters and quickly began to back-pedal. The material was removed from the group’s Web site, and an FRC spokeswoman went so far as to assert that the passage had been published accidentally." 1

Americans United published the above comments on their blog on 2007-JUN-26, just over two weeks before Chaplain Rajan Zed was scheduled to deliver his prayer before the Senate. AU issued a challenge to the Family Research Council:

"Now the FRC gets a chance to really make amends. We challenge the group to issue a public statement affirming religious diversity in America and welcoming Hindus to our rich tapestry of faiths. If we must have such prayers before Congress, they should respect religious diversity. Surely the FRC has no problem with that?" 1

It turns out that the FRC and some other fundamentalist Christian groups do have a problem with giving all religions access to the public square, as will be described below.

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Opposition prior to the Senate prayer in 2007:

For several days before the prayer was given, the American Family Association (AFA) urged its members to object to the prayer because Chaplain Rajan Zed would be "seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god." They issued an Action Alert titled "Hindu to open Senate with prayer." It asked that their supporters phone the Senate switchboard and to:

"Send an email to your senator now, expressing your disappointment in the Senate decision to invite a Hindu to open the session with prayer." 2

In their Action Alert, the AFA described the opinion of David Barton, president of Wallbuilders -- a fundamentalist Christian group who promotes links between American history and Christianity. Barton questioned:

"... why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god. Barton points out that since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto 'One Nation Under God'."

" 'In Hindu [sic], you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods,' the Christian historian explains. 'And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration [of Independence] when they talked about Creator — that’s not one that fits here because we don’t know which creator we’re talking about within the Hindu religion." 3

Barton seems to imply that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. Actually, it is a henotheistic religion, like very early forms worship described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Hindus recognize a single deity. They view other gods and goddesses as facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of that one supreme God.

In addition, when Thomas Jefferson used the term "Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence it referred to the God of the Deists. Jefferson's viewed God as the creator of the universe who set in motion "the Laws of Nature," withdrew, and hasn't been seen since. Deism was a common and perhaps the most popular religion among the founding fathers.

The AFA quote of Barton's beliefs concludes with:

“This [Hinduism] is not a religion that has produced great things in the world."

Barton might not have been aware of the example of religious tolerance that Hinduism has historically displayed to the world. Then there is the contribution of Mahatma Ghandi, whose Path of Nonviolence inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight racism and segregation, and formed the basis of Nelson Mandella's fight against Apartheit (pronounced apart hate) in South Africa. It is now helping SoulForce fight homophobia and transgender hatred in America.  Indian academics also invented the number zero, established the first university, the first school of medicine, and the game of chess.

Aware of the opposition by Evangelical Christians over his choice of a Hindu to deliver the morning prayer. Senate Majority Leader Reid  said:

"If people have any misunderstanding about Indians and Hindus, all they have to do is think of Gandhi who gave his life for peace. ... I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak in communication with our heavenly Father regarding peace."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rob Boston, "Diversity On Capitol Hill: Hindu Leader To Offer Opening Prayer In Senate," Americans United, 2007-JUN-26, at: http://blog.au.org/
  2. "Hindu to open Senate with prayer," Action Alert, American Family Association, at: http://www.afa.net/
  3. "Buck" "American Family Association Spreading Hindu Hate," Posting to Pensito Review, 2007-JUL-11, at: http://www.pensitoreview.com/

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