A good friend of mine told me that there had been a Hindu prayer in Congress a couple of weeks ago, but in the hullabaloo of life, I had dropped the ball on checking it out. Today, Ed Brayton reminded me to check it out.
This event has happened 7 years after the first congressional Hindu prayer, led by Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, which was attacked by the Family Research Council (FRC).
In response to the prayer, the Family Research Council, the most prominent Religious Right lobbying group in Washington, D.C., disparaged religious pluralism and said only Christianity deserves government support in this week's edition of the group's CultureFacts newsletter.
"(W)hile it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all," the FRC wrote, "that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage."
The group added, "Our Founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."
First, don't you love how Hinduism is paganism? Just because some forms of paganism are polytheistic doesn't mean they are the same. Does that mean that Judaism and Islam are the same?
Second, what is this nonsense about the "Christianity...receiv[ing] support from the government?" The Christian Dominionists and Dispensationalists just can't keep their mits out of the government. Barry Lynn called this "damnable religion" in a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate; religion that is so weak-willed and lacking in content that it seeks government endorsement to see its ends met. It can't rise to the challenge of other faiths head on because it has nothing to stand on. The fundies live in a house of cards.
The most recent nonsense has been just as good. The Associate Press reported the following:
A Hindu clergyman made history by offering the Senate's morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors' gallery. The clergyman, Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nev., gave the brief prayer that opens each day's Senate session. As he stood at the lectern, two women and a man began shouting ''this is an abomination'' from the gallery. They were arrested and were charged with disrupting Congress. The man told a reporter, ''We are Christians and patriots.''
According the Times of India, the protesters are members of a "Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America [also Operation Rescue]."
Surely they think they are patriots. Sure, when it means that their nation is united under their sectarian version of God they are proud to be Americans. But these people are the Christo-fascists who, given the opportunity would return us to medieval morality and education. Religious freedom is great when it's their religion.
Brayton's post (see previous link) lets us know about a ridiculous House member, Rep. Bill Sali (R - Idaho) who wants us to understand that the Lord can hold back his hand on the U.S. for invoking other Gods in our chambers of government. To Sali, it doesn't matter that founders like Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, and Paine were Deists who were:
1. varyingly skeptical of Christianity's claims,
2. set up Jefferson's "wall of separation" with the Establishment Clause, and
3. ensured that there was no sectarian litmus test for public office.
Given that we have so much freedom for belief in this country - religious, non-religious, and even anti-religious - it should follow that if we permit prayer in the House and Senate, that perhaps we ought to invite all faiths to come and speak. Perhaps my sister would like to come and give a Wiccan ceremony on Beltane or her friend Patty might give a Santarian invocation at some point? That sounds fun.
But this issue itself shouts why we shouldn't entangle government and religion. When we make religion a part of the political machine it automatically sets up arguments about salvation and devotion among different religions and sects of said religions and makes people look like morons shouting at one another that their religion has the key to understanding the meaning of the universe simply because they feel it so fervently. Congress...no! All of the government mustn't be ruled by emotionalism and magical thinking. It must be lucid in its judgments and religion (in most instances in our pluralistic heterogenous culture) gets in the way.