Intolerance in the Senate

Rajan Zed of Nevada became the first Hindu to offer the Senate’s opening prayer. He quoted from the Rig Veda: “United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be at one, that you may long dwell in unity and concord.” Not a bad wish for the Senate–but there were dissenting voices. [Video]

Protesters disrupt prayer by Hindu chaplain.

Hindu Chaplain Rajan Zed, a Nevada resident, gave the opening prayer in the Senate at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). As he began his remarks, two protestors interrupted the proceedings, asking for forgiveness from Jesus Christ for the “abomination” of failing to pray to the “one true God.” (The sergeant-at-arms had to restore order.)

Religious Right groups have been agitating against the Hindu leader’s prayer since it was announced. The Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association has asked his members to complain to their senators about the invitation. The group’s news service reported that “Christian nation” activist David Barton said that Hinduism has few followers in the United States and that prayer to a “non-monotheistic god” is “outside the American paradigm.”

Said AU’s Lynn, “The Religious Right promotes a deeply skewed version of American history. Our founders wanted separation of church and state and full religious liberty for all faith traditions. The episode today shows we still have a ways to go to achieve that goal.”

Washington Post reports three people were arrested.

Here’s the “Action Alert” from the American Family Association that rallied the troops:

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

On Thursday, a Hindu chaplain from Reno, Nevada, by the name of Rajan Zed is scheduled to deliver the opening prayer in the U.S. Senate. Zed tells the Las Vegas Sun that in his prayer he will likely include references to ancient Hindu scriptures, including Rig Veda, Upanishards, and Bhagavard-Gita. Historians believe it will be the first Hindu prayer ever read at the Senate since it was formed in 1789.

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WallBuilders president David Barton is questioning 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, 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.”

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Barton says given the fact that Hindus are a tiny constituency of the American public, he questions the motivation of Senate leaders. “This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world,” he observes. “You look at India, you look at Nepal — there’s persecution going in both of those countries that is gendered by the religious belief that is present there, and Hindu dominates in both of those countries.”

And while Barton acknowledges there is not constitutional problem with a Hindu prayer in the Senate, he wonders about the political side of it. “One definitely wonders about the pragmatic side of it,” he says. “What is the message, and why is the message needed? And will it actually communicate anything other than engender with folks like me a lot of questions?”

Barton says he knows of at least seven cases where Christians have lost their bid to express their own faith in a public prayer.

Zed is reportedly the first Hindu to deliver opening prayers in an American state legislature, having done so in both the Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate earlier this year. He has stated that Thursday’s prayer will be “universal in approach,” despite being drawn from Hindu religious texts.

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Christian News Wire has a press release from Operation Save America celebrating the display of intolerance:

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. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.

“Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! There were three in the audience with the courage to stand and proclaim, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ They were immediately removed from the chambers, arrested, and are in jail now. God bless those who stand for Jesus as we know that He stands for them.” Rev. Flip Benham, Director, Operation Save America/Operation Rescue.

Update: Benham praises those who were arrested:

The Pavkovics disrupted the ceremony after seeing that no Senator would emerge to challenge the Hindu clergyman’s beliefs.

The idea to protest the Hindu’s invocation originated in a very organic way, Benham said in the interview. The Pavkovics had come to Washington to protest the proposed hate crimes bill with other activists. When everyone else was headed home, the family found out about the upcoming Hindu presence in the Senate, and realized they could not simply stay silent.

“They thought they needed to go and represent the Lord who made this nation great,” Benham said. The event, he said, is emblematic of the modern tendency of “other religions being held on a par with Christianity. Of course, we have said that is not true, that indeed Christianity is one way.”

Election Central asked Benham what he thought of Tim Wildmon, president of the far-right American Family Association, who was quoted by CNN condemning the Pavkovic family’s behavior. Wildmon told CNN: “We would not ever encourage shouting in the gallery like that, we asked people to contact their Senators to show their disapproval.”

Benham said he respects Wildmon as a friend and ally, but he thinks his friend is simply wrong on this matter. “Our answer is,” Benham said, “When one stands up in the face of gross idolatry being allowed in the Senate, in the chamber of the United States Senate, it is incumbent on a Christian to stand up and speak the truth. No matter what, we must obey God rather than men.”

“When you stand up and are arrested, and the Hindu is allowed to go free, this country has gone upside-down,” Benham added — though when asked, he later clarified that he does not believe people of other religions should be arrested for their beliefs. “Now, why are Hindus allowed here? Why are Muslims allowed here? Because we are a nation that’s free, built upon the principles of almighty God.”

Operation Rescue, founded by Randall Terry, started out as a pro-life organization; when Flip Benham took over, he expanded its interests, leading the California branch of the organization to break off to stay focused on fighting abortion.

David Barton served several terms as the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. He’s representative of the Reconstructionist/Theocratic extreme wing of the party–a very vocal segment. Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty critiques his views.

There’s an alternative: Practice Tolerance–it’s the genuine American way.

Update: has some interesting details:

Zed addressed a mainly empty Senate chamber. Among other staff, only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) were present for the opening invocation and Pledge of Allegiance. Reid’s office sponsored Zed’s request to serve as a guest chaplain. Inhofe was there to deliver a speech moments later on the Fairness Doctrine. …

While he appears to be the first Hindu to open the Senate, Zed is not the first outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. A Muslim prayer was delivered in 1993.

4 thoughts on “Intolerance in the Senate

  1. Did any members protest? This may be difficult to prove since some may have expressed their protest by boycott.

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