Intolerance is Alive and Well

As a member of a non-mainstream faith and a former Neopagan, I tend to pay attention to religious issues in our culture and the way that minority religions are treated.

This news item was brought to my attention today by “The Buddhist Blog”, which is on my reading list of daily blogs.

Hindu prayer in U.S. Senate draws religious protesters Thu Jul 12, 2007 10:55 PM IST WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three protesters disrupted a prayer by a Hindu chaplain on Thursday at the opening of a U.S. Senate hearing, calling it an abomination and shouting slogans about Jesus Christ. It was the first time the daily prayer that opens Senate proceedings was said by a Hindu chaplain. Capitol police said two women and one man were arrested and charged with causing a disruption in the public gallery of the Senate. The three started shouting when guest Chaplain Rajan Zed, a Hindu from Nevada, began his prayer. They shouted "No Lord but Jesus Christ" and "There's only one true God," and used the term "abomination." Religious figures from various faiths have said the prayer, which is normally recited by a Christian chaplain. Barry Lynn, executive director of religious watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the protest showed the intolerance of the "religious right." "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," Lynn said in a statement. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had invited Zed. "I think it speaks well of our country that someone representing the faith of about a billion people comes here and can speak in communication with our heavenly father regarding peace," he said after the disruption.

I find it hard to understand that Reid’s only response was to mention his own faith and to say positive things about communication while not condemning the disruption.

Would mainstream America tolerate, even for a second, similar behavior for a Christian Chaplain? Of course not. The senate would be up in arms and would be publicly speaking out against it. But for a non-mainstream faith, especially from a “weird” religion like Hinduism? Well, I guarantee that this item barely makes the news and is not mentioned at all outside of Reuters in mainstream sources.

Update: As one online acquaintance pointed out to me, you can see the disruption in clips from C-SPAN that are up on YouTube.

Another Update: Here is the prayer in question that was so offensive:

Let us pray. 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 the Heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds. Lead us from the unreal to the 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. May no obstacle arise between us. May the Senators strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion and without thought for themselves. United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be as one, that you may long dwell in unity and concord. Peace, peace, peace be unto all. Lord, we ask You to comfort the family of former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Amen.