Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed leads California Senate in opening prayer

Sacramento — Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed led the state Senate in its opening prayer Monday, marking a historical first for the religion within the California Legislature.

Zed’s prayer, spoken first in Sanskrit, an official language of India, followed by an English translation, lasted about three minutes – and without any disturbances like the protests that occurred last month when he became the first Hindu cleric to lead the U.S. Senate in prayer.

“Fulfill all your duties; action is better than inaction,” Zed exhorted the senators in Sacramento, speaking in Sanskrit to the state government’s upper house one week after its members finally broke a two-month impasse and approved a state budget.

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Last month, protesters interrupted Zed in a similar prayer, and three of them were arrested. In the days after the incident, a Christian group from Mississippi urged its members to contact their congressmen to condemn the prayer for its basis in a non-monotheistic religion.

“You don’t even know who he’s praying to,” Tim Wildmon, president of the group, the American Family Association, said Monday. “I don’t know if he even knows who he’s praying to.”

But in Sacramento, Zed, 53, of Reno was warmly welcomed. He has been a chaplain for two years and was the first Hindu chaplain to lead the Nevada state Senate and Assembly in prayer.

“I was very honored to have him here – as is the entire Senate,” said the Rev. James Richardson, the official chaplain of the Senate, who usually conducts the opening prayer.

Richardson is an Episcopal priest whose past guests have included Jewish rabbis and a Tibetan monk.

Added Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara: “I really believe in diversity and that all religions should be represented.”

Although she is Greek Orthodox, her chief of staff, daughter and two grandchildren are all Hindu, Alquist said. “California is a truly encompassing place, and we have our arms out to the world, and that’s how it should be.”

Conservative political and religious groups in California did not seem to mind the notion of a guest religious leader.

“The problem isn’t who is saying the prayers in the Legislature,” said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, the state’s largest Republican volunteer organization. “The problem is that the Legislature isn’t listening to the prayers.”

The Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, said, “I don’t see any problem with it at all. I would have no problems with a Hindu praying, just as I wouldn’t an evangelical Christian.”

Wildmon, whose group protested Zed’s congressional prayer last month, said, “We’re not opposed to the ability of people to worship their own gods or god, but when it comes to our civil government … it’s always been the recognition of the God of the Bible.

“Every religion is not equal,” he said. “That’s my belief. That’s logic.”

Tony Beard Jr., the chief sergeant at arms for the state Senate, said he and security personnel made preparations in the event of any protests against Zed.


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Haley Davies, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 28, 2007, http://www.sfgate.com

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday August 28, 2007.
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