US Senate Opens With Hindu Prayer, Confuses David Barton [UPDATED]
DonByrd printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 02:40:23 AM EST
This morning, the United States Senate opened with a prayer by a Hindu chaplain, for the first time in our nation's history. Rajan Sed, an American citizen and Nevada resident prayed to "the supreme one" for "peace" and "enlightenment." You will be shocked to find out that some Christian conservatives are unhappy with this development. Chief among the complainers has been our favorite dubious historian, David Barton. Read on...
The American Family Network (the press arm of Donald Wildmon's AFA) has taken the lead in denouncing the prayer, with news headlines like "Senate Prayer: Starting Countdown to Judgment," a suggestion that this "watershed" event just may be prove to be God's tipping point...(please document all witnessed signs of the apocalypse in comments below). Yesterday's story highlighted "historian Barton's" misgivings:
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."

Then, of course, he moves to an appeal to majority, as if our constitutional rights might be up for a vote:
Barton says given the fact that Hindus are a tiny constituency of the American public, he questions the motivation of Senate leaders.

And, finally when all else fails, he falls back on plain old derogatory assessments of the Hindu faith:
"This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world," he observes.

But of course, he covers his own backside by insisting there are no legal problems in opening a session with, the problems here are more, well, personal:
[W]hile Barton acknowledges there is no 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?"

So there you have it. Freedom for me, but not for thee. David wants our government to be rife with acts of free religious expression, just not so free as to put him outside his comfort zone, or leave him with "a lot of questions." No, indeed, what good is religion if we can't use it to remain comfortable and unquestioning?

In all honesty, apart from the chance to share a so-this-is-how-they-must-feel learning moment with my Christian brothers and sisters like Mr. Barton, I am not any more excited about opening the Senate of the United States with a Hindu prayer than I am a Christian prayer. That ceremonial prayers like this one have been found constitutional doesn't mean they are wise, from a religious perspective. There is, for sure, symbolic value in this reminder of our nation's religious diversity, but at the same time, prayers are deeply personal expressions, not roadshows. The necessary compromise of state involvement diminishes the integrity of faith.

Though the situation he describes is different, I'm reminded of a part of Randall Balmer's recent speech to a group of Baptists at the Religious Liberty Council Luncheon in Washington, D.C.:

I attended a meeting a few years back where a representative of the Religious Right in this town actually proposed that the way to maneuver around the Supreme Court was to have schoolchildren recite a Hindu prayer on Monday, a Jewish prayer on Tuesday, a Christian prayer on Wednesday, and so on. No real Baptist would stand for such tomfoolery, for Baptists, following the lead of Roger Williams, recognize the perils to the faith of too close an association with the state. I, for one, have no interest in having my daughter or my sons recite a Shintõ prayer at the beginning of each school day, much less a prayer written by Congress or by the state legislature or even by a local school board. Baptists, of all people, understand that making prayer rote and obligatory makes prayer into a mockery.
Read the whole speech.

[UPDATE: TPMCafe has video of the Senate prayer here, as well as more info on the Christian disrupters.]

Three Christian protestors were removed from the U.S. Senate chamber's observation gallery Thursday when they disrupted the morning prayer -- being delivered for the first time in history by a Hindu chaplain.

The three unidentified protestors began praying loudly when Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Nevada, started praying. The demonstrators prayed for forgiveness from Jesus Christ for "betraying" the Christian tradition.

by DonByrd on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 10:52:09 AM EST php

The above link will take you to a thread at AFA regarding this.  According to them, The Hindu prayer was "shouted down".  I do find it interesting in the comments left at the AFA site, that some dare to espouse a liberal view.  However, that voice is almost lost in the vituperation of the others.  Sad.

by SFLady on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 02:51:29 PM EST

...who tipped them off? Or is this something that is announced as part of a published schedule? Or, if, perhaps a Senator desired a confrontation...

by Naomi on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 09:50:12 PM EST
No surprises there.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 10:47:13 PM EST

The Chaplains' prayer could have come straight from the mouth of John Adams.

Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? "God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs -- Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and Goodness, in his Works."

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813.

by Jonathan Rowe on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 10:14:23 AM EST

This is going to bee the kind of story that divides people.  Either you are going to have a problem with the Senate's opening prayer being led by a Hindu (or any non-Judeo-Christian) or you're not.  

Personally I have absolutely no problem with the Senate having a Hindu lead the opening prayer, in fact I think this practice should be encourage and continued.  It would do Americans a world of good to be exposed to other religions and the Senate is as good a place as any to start.  

What will be interesting about this debate is to see which side evokes the idea of separation of church and state (something of which I am a firm believer in).  To me, having a Hindu lead the prayer is the embodiment of the idea of the separation of church and state.  By allowing a representative of any religion to lead the prayer, the government is not showing preference to any one religion because all are allowed to participate.  It's all or none; either we let all religions participate or we remove the prayer all together.  End of story.  

by oklahomalefty on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 11:56:09 AM EST

Last evening KO gave the three "protesters" the bronze in his Worst Person in the World and incluided this comment:

"Mr. Christ has issued a statement apologizing and saying he never told anyone to be intolerant and certainly not to be rude."  

I love Keith Olbermann.

by SFLady on Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 01:30:40 PM EST

James Madison, in his "Detached Memoranda" offered his belief that the presence of chaplains in both Congress and the military was an obvious violation of the Establishment Clause. He said that it was something that he felt at the time was not worth fighting over, but that if it became an issue between sects, the practice should be discontinued. Well, it has become a problem several times over the years, and this Hindu issue caps it. The practice of having prayers and chaplains in government venues, including in the military should cease!

by LindaJoy on Tue Jul 17, 2007 at 03:04:05 PM EST

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