Om my God

Why it took so long for the state Senate to open with a Hindu prayer

Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed opens the August 27 California state Senate session with the first Hindu prayer delivered in the chambers.

Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed opens the August 27 California state Senate session with the first Hindu prayer delivered in the chambers.


To help bridge the gap between the “Have-Gods” and “Have-Nots,” SNR is bringing together three faith leaders each week and pitching them the real-life ethical questions that spring from their communities. Venturing beyond biblical references and high-minded philosophies, our hope is to give voice to the complexity, insight and compassion inherent to any spiritual calling. And while we’re breaking bread with the godly, we might also shed light on some unfounded stereotypes.

News item: Sacramento, California, USA; August 27, 2007:

For the first time in its 157-year history, the California state Senate heard a Hindu opening prayer. Beginning with “Om,” the syllable Hindus believe contains the universe and which they use to introduce and conclude religious work, renowned Hindu chaplain Rajan Zed recited Gayatri and other ancient Sanskrit mantras, reading from ancient scriptures Rig-Veda, Brahadaranyakopnisad, Taittiriya Upanisad, and Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord) and closing with the words “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” which he translated as “Peace, Peace, Peace be unto all.”


But, erm, the Senate in what’s arguably the country’s most religiously diverse state is just now working its way around to Hinduism? Hinduism! Isn’t Hinduism, like, 200 years old or something? Isn’t it among the Big Three in world religions? Isn’t it—gulp—the oldest religion on Earth?

Indeed it is, so it does seem odd that—cough, cough—enlightened chambers like those in Sacramento occupied by the—barf, barf—most elite of California’s two legislative houses would not have had a Hindu representative swing by and get his Om on by now.

Heck, they just endured opening prayers by a pastor from the San Diego New Life Baptist Church. It must be younger than Hinduism; it’s got new in its title.

Bless their bipartisan hearts, the senators did allow Zed to do his thing unmolested. He arrived wearing saffron colored attire, a ruddraksh mala (rosary) and traditional sandalpaste tilak (religious mark) on his forehead. Before starting the prayer, he sprinkled Gangajal—holy water from river Ganga in India—on the podium, a traditional opener in Hindu worship. You can’t beat the classics.

Senators acted just as alert when Zed read verses in Sanskrit followed by their English translations as they do during any recitation of an omnibus transportation bill. Okay, they were actually more attentive than that.

Despite Hinduism’s late coming in the room, Zed seemed genuinely touched to be there. “This day of August 27, 2007, is an esteemed day for all Californians and momentous day for us when opening prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures are being read in this majestic hall of democracy,” he remarked.

Indeed, news of the Senate’s Hindu hoe-down spread throughout the newswires, religious info services and, of course, the blogosphere—the latter not necessarily being a good thing. Because if it makes it to the blogs, a disgruntled dogmatic nut can’t be far behind.

Donald E. Wildmon, come on down!

Truth be told, the founder and chairman of the knucke-dragging American Family Association put out the word one-and-a-half months before Zed even entered the chambers that the Hindu menace—which some scholars figures has been around 3,000 BCE—must be obliterated, at least on L and 10th. In an electronic message to his faithful, Wildmon urged the following (bold for emphasis kept intact):

Please help us get this information into the hands of as many people as possible by forwarding it to your entire email list of family and friends.

Send an e-mail to your senator now, expressing your disappointment in the Senate decision to invite a Hindu to open the session with prayer.

His missive ended with the following: “If you think our efforts are worthy, would you please support us with a small gift?” The “would you please support us” bit was hyperlinked to a form allowing you to give and give often. At least none of this was in boldface. That would have been tacky.

Wildmon had apparently been alerted to Zed having accepted the Senate’s invitation by a report on, another Christian fundamentalist website, that quoted David Barton, the president of Aledo, Texas-based WallBuilders, Inc., an anti-Semitic, Christian nut group that ironically takes its name from this passage in Nehemiah 2 (“Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”) According to a 1993 article by Rob Boston in Church & State, which is published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Like the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, Barton apparently sees himself as chosen by God to rebuild his nation’s moral foundations.”

Leaving out Barton’s controversial background in favor of the more mild descriptor “Christian Historian,” OneNewsNow reported Barton “questioning why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.” Barton pointed 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.”

And in the world—including the U.S., including California—there are many, many, many, many, many Hindus. Not as many here as there are Christians, certainly, but last time anyone checked the State Senate did not solely represent Christian Californians. But that did not stop Barton for questioning the Senate leaders’ motivation.

“This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world,” Barton said in the article.

Sri Ramakrishna … Mahatma Gandhi … nonviolent protest … what? Huh? Is he still talking?

“You look at India, you look at Nepal—there’s persecution going in both of those countries that is gendered by the religious belief that is present there,” Barton continued, “and Hindu dominates in both of those countries.”

Yep, good thing there’s no presecution going on in non-Hindu countries.

Deluded hucksters like Barton and Wildmon no doubt find receptive ears to their keep-non-Christians-out-of-state-houses message thanks to the efforts of groups like Capital Ministries, the Pennsylvania-based group that conducts Bible studies for elected officials in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming and—ding-ding-ding—Californy!

Led by extremist Christian and former UCLA basketball player Ralph Drollinger, Capital Ministries is hellbent on making religious services, prayers and observances at all levels of government Christian only.

And for you Catholics who think of yourselves as Christians, think again. As previously reported in SN&R, Drollinger offended many in the state legislature in 2004 when he called Catholicism “the world’s largest false religion.” He had to move his Bible studies out of the governor’s suites after that remark, seeing as how Arnold Schwarzenegger practices that false religion. Thankfully for Drollinger, three GOP legislators found a legislative suite for his Bible studies to continue.

Sounds like plenty of folks at the Capitol could use a swift kick in the ashram.