I’m very interested in civil religion, as some of you may have picked up. People who share my confession of faith tend to dislike the mixture of politics and worship since it violates our understanding of the sacredness of worship. Besides, civil religion never seems to work out for us as we’re always outnumbered by other religious groups.
So when the story about a Reno clergyman giving the first Hindu prayer in the Senate (and being interrupted by protestors) broke, I was anxious to see how it was covered. Thing is, there hasn’t been that much coverage. Or maybe I’m missing it and you all can help me out. The local fishwrapper, The Washington Post, had a brief piece today by Charles Babington, that began as follows:
A Hindu clergyman made history yesterday by offering the Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three protesters from the visitors’ gallery.
Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nev., gave the prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the lectern in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.
Police officers arrested them and charged them disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester said “we are Christians and patriots” before police led them away. Police identified the protesters as Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar. Their home towns were not available.
For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”
And that’s basically all there is to the story. I’m not sure if the protesters are affiliated with American Family Association or what that organization is since the reporter didn’t speak with anyone representing the group. But it sure seems like we are supposed to link the efforts of the AFA with the protesters.
It would be nice to know a bit more context, too. Hindus have already prayed in other settings in government. The Hindu group that came to the World’s Fair in Chicago at the turn of the century had a profound influence on American religion. Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, a priest from Ohio, was the first Hindu to pray before Congress when he opened the House of Representatives with prayer in September of 2000. There was some protest then. But if you really want dramatic news, look at some of the crazy shenanigans going on in State Houses.
I’m wondering why we haven’t seen more comprehensive coverage. Anyway, a few other highlights. A USA TODAY blog posted the full text of the prayer and implied that the protesters, the AFA and Operation Rescue/Operation Save America were involved. Or maybe the story confused AFA and Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. And Reuters had a limited report with a fascinating quote from Mormon Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., saying that the Hindu deity system is equivalent to “our heavenly father.” Also a good story from Indian news outlet Rediff, which interviewed the Hindu chaplain and shared some interesting tidbits about his life (he has a journalism degree!). The story also says Zed believs yoga is helping spread Hinduism throughout America.
I think the best story comes from Diana Marrero of Gannett News Service writing for the Reno Gazette-Journal — and I’m not just saying that since I know her! I didn’t see it earlier, alas. She begins with the actual prayer and shares a bit of Hindu beliefs and interesting tidbits:
Zed said celebrants in a small Punjab town in India set off fireworks and flew flags on their rooftops to commemorate what they considered a major historic event.
The story focused more on the historic nature of the prayer, rather than the protest.
Did any of you see particularly good or bad stories out there? What angles do you wish would have been covered?