There is no God but God.
It is an Islamic saying translated into English, but it applies, as far as we mortals can divine, to each and every monotheistic religion under the sun.
As there is one Mother Nature, it’s reasonable to assume, there is most probably just one God, should such a monolithic, omnipotent being exist in the first place as monotheists envision.
But not in North Dakota state House of Representatives. Only the Christian God is allowed to exist there.
An April 2 incident in the state House emphasized once again the deep intolerance that tends to infect particular religions against other faiths. In this case, it was Christianity against Hinduism.
A ‘false God’?
Several House lawmakers chose to protest the planned session-opening religious invocation by Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism based in Reno, Nevada, even though Zed delivered a similar invocation at the state Senate the day before — April Fool’s Day, ironically — without incident. But the joke was on the House.
To protest, Hinduism-opposing House members either went to the back of the chamber or didn’t stand, as other representatives respectfully did in honor of the American value of religious freedom. Prayers opening legislative sessions in North Dakota is traditional, but they always Christian.
Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Republican from Minot, sat in the back during Zed’s Hindu prayer, in which he encouraged members in Sanskrit and English to “do your work with the welfare of others in mind.” It was a secular sentiment about the proper, compassionate role of government acceptable to believers of all faiths and atheists alike.
According to an article in the Washington Post, Rep. Hoverson protested the invocation because,
“I don’t want to be compelled to pray to a false god.”
For one thing, proof of his assumption that different gods actually exist doesn’t exist in sensory reality. For another, the freedom of religion codified in America’s Constitution also requires mutual respect of personal spiritual beliefs involving all faiths, and none, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out on numerous occasions.
So, what we have here in the North Dakota House is a case of religious bigotry, which is an imminently fair characterization. You can look it up in the dictionary.
Rep. Hoverson tried to soften the insult to Zed prior to his invocation — reportedly the first in the House by a Hindu — by meeting with him on the House floor to assure him his protest was “nothing personal,” according to the Post. He said he “accepted” Zeda and that the two men hugged and exchanged handshakes and business cards. However, one can’t reject and accept at the same time.
Unfortunately, exactly how the pointed snub by North Dakota House members could not be seen by Zed as “personal” is unclear. If protesting representatives were simply trying not to offend their presumably equally intolerant constituents that’s not a valid excuse for such an un-American activity.
This kind of religious intolerance plays out in city halls and statehouses across the country, where elected officials are often wary of allowing invocations traditionally delivered by Christians to be given by proponents of other faiths — or by atheists. Some elected bodies have chosen to do away with invocations altogether rather than having to entertain “others” as the Constitution implies they should.
A history of snubs
Zed is a veteran of this kind of controversy. He said he has given prayers in some 17 statehouses across the country and in the U.S. Senate, where his first official invocation was interrupted 11 years ago by several Christian activists who were restrained by the sergeant at arms and later arrested. (The video embedded in this post is of Zed’s prayer at the U.S. Senate)
Hemant Mehta in an April 3 post in his The Friendly Atheist blog wrote:
“A few years ago, in front of the Idaho Senate, three Republicans walked out on [Zed], with one even saying he couldn’t be in the room because Hindus ‘worship cows.’”
Mehta also reported that,
“Lisbon Republican Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, who’s Catholic, also sat in the back during the prayer. He said Zed wasn’t ‘praying to the same God that I pray to.’”
Now he knows how atheists feel when Christian prayers are said at government gatherings.
Don’t forget the Muslim incident
It’s also not the first time there’s been a push-back from North Dakota House Christians to a non-Christian opening prayer. In 2015, the House cancelled a Muslim’s invocation to the body on Ash Wednesday and scheduled a Christian prayer instead. The U.S. Council on American-Islamic Relations sought an apology, but the House declined.
Nonetheless, Bismarck surgeon Dr. Nadim Koleilat, president of the city’s Muslim Community Center, walked across the hall and delivered his invocation, without objection from any senators, in the Senate chamber.
Nothing much has changed in four years in the North Dakota House, apparently.
Rep. Hoverson also said he felt that allowing a Hindu to deliver the invocation on April 2 was “unfair.”
It would only be unfair if America were a Christian theocracy, as Saudi Arabia is a Muslim one. But it’s not. We’re a secular democracy, as the founders intended. Religion has nothing to do with it.
In fact, why are state legislative sessions still opening with prayers at all?