WASHINGTON: Christian activists briefly disrupted a Hindu invocation in the U.S Senate on Thursday, marring a historic first for the chamber and showing that fundamentalism is present and shouting in the U.S too.
Invited by the Senate to offer Hindu prayers in place of the usual Christian invocation, Rajan Zed, a Hindu priest from Reno, Nevada, had just stepped up to the podium for the landmark occasion when three protesters, said to belong to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America, interrupted him by loudly asking for God’s forgiveness for allowing the ”false prayer” of a Hindu in the Senate chamber.
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.
The following do not constitute religious intolerance:
Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.
“Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight,” the first protester shouted. “This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You.”
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who was serving as the presiding officer for the morning, immediately asked the sergeant-at-arms to restore order. But they continued to protest as they were headed out the door by the marshals, shouting, “No Lord but Jesus Christ!” and “There’s only one true God!”
Zed, sporting a saffron robe, a rudraksh mala round his neck, and a prominent tilak on his forehead, then nervously went through the invocation chosen from the Rig Veda and Bhagavad Gita.
“Let us pray,” he began, “We meditate on the transcendental glory of the deity supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of heaven. May he stimulate and illuminate our minds.
“Lead us from the unreal to real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening.”
The sentiments were evidently lost on the fundamentalists.
The organization Operation Save America later issued a statement confirming that Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate “as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god.”
“The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ,” the statement said, adding, “This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.”
The Hindu prayer was also questioned by a Christian historian who maintained 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.”
According to a Senate Chaplain Office communique’, the purpose of the opening prayer is to seek God on behalf of, and for the Senators and the prayer should affirm our rich heritage as a Nation “under God.”
“In Hindu (sic), you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods,” the Christian historian David Barton maintained. “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.”
But the disruption was deplored by the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which said the incident showed the intolerance of many Religious Right activists.
“They say they want more religion in the public square, but it’s clear they mean only their religion.” Americans United Executive Director Rev. Barry W. Lynn, said.
“America is a land of extraordinary religious diversity, and the Religious Right just can’t seem to accept that fact,” Lynn said. “I don’t think the Senate should open with prayers, but if it’s going to happen, the invocations ought to reflect the diversity of the American people.”
According to US Senate website, “…Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State…all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate’s faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation…”
Typically, the Senate Chaplain delivers the opening invocation, but sometimes guest chaplains are invited from all over the country to read the prayer.
Although priests from other faiths such as Islam and Judaism have delivered prayers in the Congress, this is the first time Hindu invocations were delivered on the Senate floor since its formation in 1789.
Zed said he wanted to recite the mantras in Sanskrit, but the Senate Chaplain’s Office communique’ clearly stated, “It must be given exclusively and entirely in the English language.”