Les extrémistes chrétiens
Washington, DC (August 14, 2007) - On July 12, 2007, Rajan Zed became the first Hindu chaplain to deliver a universal prayer to open proceedings in the U.S. Senate. Widely reported was that three activists for an evangelical Christian organization disrupted the prayer from the Senate gallery terming the prayer "an abomination."
Lone among presidential contenders for 2008 to respond to HAF's request to condemn the insult to Chaplain Zed was Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). "Our nation was founded on the importance of religious freedom. The United States Senate has a responsibility to continue this legacy by honoring religious diversity and embracing the many faiths to which our citizens subscribe," declared Sen. Dodd. "The protests that interrupted [Zed] were a shameful representation of a few close-minded individuals. I condemn their demonstration, but am reassured by my strong belief that their actions did nothing to lessen the spiritual significance and true holiness of Mr. Zed's prayer."
Several evangelical groups mounted protests before the Senate proceedings and in its aftermath against the Hindu chaplain reciting prayers. Following its release of a statement thanking Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for allowing the recitation and for inviting Zed, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) approached the offices of members of Congress and political leaders across the nation to condemn the actions of the extremist Christian activists and support the appearance of the Hindu chaplain. Presidential candidates from both parties were specifically asked to condemn what the Foundation leaders termed "religious bigotry."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was the first to reach out to Hindu-Americans. "As a Lutheran, I deplore the intolerance and disrespect shown to Rajan Zed, a Hindu Clergyman who gave the opening prayer during last Thursday's session of the Senate," said Sen. Brown. "Honoring the expression of all religions is important to protecting the plurality of faith that strengthens our diverse nation," he added.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) also weighed in and condemned the prayer's disruption. "Unfortunately, several right-wing groups continue to fuel intolerance with mean-spirited statements," he said. "The American spirit is ultimately welcoming and the vast majority of people saw this occasion as I did - as a source of pride and celebration for all of us."
Bringing a sense of urgency to HAF's effort was the statement from Rep. Bill Sali (R-ID) last week that, " When a Hindu prayer is offered [in the Senate], it creates problems for the longevity of this country."
"Hindu Americans practice a peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic faith, that has enriched the fabric of our country for over a hundred years," said Ishani Chowdhury, Executive Director of HAF. "We are very pleased that the Senate heard from a Hindu chaplain, and many senators denounced the provocations of miscreants in the gallery. But we will continue to expect that those seeking the highest office in our land will unequivocally take a stand against religious chauvinism and avoid the politically expedient path of simply ignoring this burning issue for 2008."
The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization, promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.