Archives For Senate

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Robin Hood's Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

Robin Hood’s Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

  • What’s it like being a Pagan in Wyoming? Pretty hard, apparently, as locals attending a Pagan Pride Day event in Laramie discuss being closeted and how “people are not so nice here.” Quote: “They’re closeted,” said Jo-Ann Aelfwine of Laramie, who has been practicing paganism for 50 years. Wyoming is a conservative state, and people aren’t always open to differences, Aelfwine said. “We have to worry about things like losing your job, having your kids taken away from you,” she said.”
  • The Kirklees estate in West Yorkshire, believed to be the final resting place of the legendary Robin Hood, is up for sale and the British Psychic and Occult Society want to turn it into a tourist destination. Quote: [David Farrant, president of the British Psychic and Occult Society said] “The special place the tomb holds in the hearts of many local people is heartened by tales of ghostly sightings and chilling experiences from those who have made the pilgrimage to the grave, defying the vicious brambles, dense canopies of twisted trees, and watchful gamekeepers and guard dogs.” Personally, I think the legend of Robin Hood deserves more dignity than to be turned into some sort of ghost-walk, but what do I know? Maybe this will be a positive thing.
  • The Senate heard testimony on domestic hate crimes this week, a move that comes in the wake of the Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre from August. Testimony focused on how violence and hate crimes committed against Sikhs have gone unnoticed and un-tracked by the government. Quote:  “I have filmed, chronicled, combated hate crimes against this community for 11 years,” Valerie Kaur, a Sikh filmmaker and community activist, said in testimony at the hearing. “In the aftermath of Oak Creek, reporters came up to me and asked me, ‘How many hate crimes have there been? How many hate murders have there been?’ ” Kaur said. “And I couldn’t tell them … because the government currently does not track hate crimes against Sikhs at all.” You can read more about the inciting incident, and Pagan reactions to it, here.
  • Will Witches replace vampires and zombies? Maybe!
  • South African Pagans are challenging plans by the South African Police Service to start training specialists in “occult-related crimes” saying they could lead to religious minorities to be targeted by those looking for a scapegoat. Quote from the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA):  “This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities (including Satanism). Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, SAPRA believes the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of belief alone.” Considering how “occult experts” have been used to smear occult and Pagan traditions in other countries, I think their skepticism and worry are well founded.

  • Check out a new Pagan-y (and human-sacrifice-y) video from Swedish folk act First Aid Kit. “Wolf” is off of their new album The Lion’s Roar.
  • Fashion house Paul Frank shows you how to respond after you’ve been accused of offensively appropriating Native and indigenous imagery. Quote: “It is embarrassing to reveal that, say, you don’t employ anyone who might have the perspective to point out to you that a “pow-wow” is not an okay thing to do, or that a news organization airs information it found on Google without verifying it. But cauterizing those wounds and explaining how you’ve worked backwards to make sure you don’t make the errors again is a short-term pain it’s worth enduring.”
  • The Gary Johnson campaign seemed to have enjoyed my piece about them yesterday. Quote: “Thanks to Cara Schulz for help organizing and promoting tomorrow’s event. This isn’t the first time Ms. Schulz has helped the campaign. Last year she help put together a press conference with the governor and lesser-known religionists and non-religionists. She truly is the type of individual thinker for which the campaign wishes to provide a Big Tent. Here’s the story of the “pagan” vote.” 
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Satan’s nemesis!
  • John Morehead deconstructs hater Janet Mefferd. Quote: “…we live in a post-Christendom America. Surveys indicate that while Evangelicalism is still numerically large and influential, it has lost ground, both in terms of membership, and in terms of credibility within among young people, and on the outside as well, where both groups see it as judgmental and oppressive. Engaging others in a post-Christendom environment means that we can no longer assume either a monoculture, or a pluralistic culture with non-Christians who will sit quietly on the sidelines while hope to exclude them and describe them as a toxic fume creeping under the door of America’s political process.” More on Mefferd, here.
  • Hey, it’s September 21st, where’s Jason post about the Fall Equinox? Check your nearest observatory, it’s not till tomorrow!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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Glenn Beck calls him “one of the most important men in America,” People For the American Way call him the “right’s favorite pseudo-historian, “ and Time Magazine listed him among the 25 most influential evangelicals in 2005. He’s David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann wants him teaching the freshman class of recently elected Republicans all about the U.S. Constitution.

“Rep. Michele Bachmann announced last month that she wants to hold “Constitution classes” for new members of Congress in the hopes of preventing them from being “co-opted into the Washington system.” She’s already announced several people she wants to teach the classes, including David Barton, a controversial figure whose ideas about the constitution and the founding fathers have drawn sharp criticism from both the religious and secular communities. “Every week the hour before we take our first votes, we have our weekly class so that we are reminded of our constitutional jurisdictional limits,” Bachmann told Glenn Beck in a recent radio interview. She mentioned Barton as a key figure in those weekly classes.”

Anyone who pays attention to the nomination and approval of Supreme Court nominees knows that there are different schools of thought regarding the constitution and how it should be applied in court cases, but Barton’s interpretations and views go beyond whether we have a “living constitution” or not, they are something far more radical and dangerous. In short, Barton has a theocracy-tinged exceptionalist view of America that would see the equal treatment of non-Christian religions eliminated. That isn’t hyperbole on my part, I’ll let Barton speak for himself.

The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

That quote is from an amicus brief written by Barton in the case of Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. McCollum v. CDCR centers on the state of California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents.

It’s unsurprising that Rep. Michele Bachmann is so keen on Barton since she tried to funnel tainted contribution money into an anti-Pagan charity (which they later returned), one that has ties to the virulently anti-Pagan New Apostolic Reformation. Indeed, Barton and Bachmann have been chummy for years.

“Bachmann and Barton have a long relationship going back to Bachmann’s time as state senator. Barton was invited to Minnesota to help Bachmann with legislation on school history standards, she’s appeared his radio show numerous times and she and Barton have conducted tours in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to tea partiers how religious the Founding Fathers were.”

Sadly, Bachmann isn’t the only politician Barton has on his speed-dial. He helped Republican candidate Marco Rubio win a senate seat, and Mary Fallin the governor’s chair in Oklahoma, this November. He’s also close to potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

Despite being engaged in various scandals and outrages, nothing seems to have slowed Barton’s ascent to a position of influence in national politics. That he may be in a position now to “educate” unexperienced politicians elected with a largely fiscal mandate by an unhappy electorate is chilling. If Barton gathers enough “students” among holders of high political office, how long before his distorted perspectives on the Religion Clauses start to carry real weight? As recently as 1999 there was a congressional effort to ban Wiccans from serving in the military. Who’s to say that the next time an anti-Pagan (or minority-religion) amendment gets attached to a vital spending bill it won’t sail through the House and get ignored by the Senate?

What is certain is that any politician who counts Barton as a friend or mentor can’t be guaranteed to have the best interests of religious minorities in America at heart. If your representative, governor, or senator was endorsed by, or takes “lessons” from, Barton, maybe you should ask them if they agree with his stance on the Religion Clauses.

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

About That Wall of Separation: This election cycle in the United States has brought forward an old argument, is there a “wall of separation” between religion (“church”) and our government (“state”)? While many argue that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution decreeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and years of subsequent legal precedent, make such a separation very plain, certain factions of Christian conservatives claim that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent denominational favoritism among Christians, and that ours is a Christian country. This division in understandings was in full display in a recent debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (who has gotten too much coverage from me already) and Chris Coons.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked himaccording to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate. The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward. “Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell has been roundly mocked in the press for this latest gaffe, but it’s very representative of a certain understanding of the US Constitution, and many feel she was sending “dog whistle” signals about her stance on church-state issues. Far more explicit was Minnesota Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson, who spoke plainly what O’Donnell only alluded to.

Quite often you hear people say, ‘What about separation of church and state?’ There is no such thing. I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation. We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties. It is one of those things that is so fundamental to the freedoms that we have that when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties. You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty.

This is the same sort of viewpoint that drives Christian groups like WallBuilders, who claim that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses. Separation of Church and State isn’t just about Christmas displays on public lands, it’s about the very character and nature of our country. If we swing too far into an understanding that would please Severson or O’Donnell, it could jeopardize the free exercise and equal treatment of religious minorities in the United States. We would go beyond sanctioning “moments of silence” and see reinvigorated battles over teaching Christianity in our public schools.

Is James Arthur Ray Hurting Sedona? Chas Clifton links to a New York Times article about a decline in tourism at the New Age hub of Sedona, Arizona. Is it the bad economy, or “negative energy” from the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge deaths?

“It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere,” said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to a lack of disposable income for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. “It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona’s practitioners at all.” But sweat lodges are now far less common, with the authorities shutting some down to avoid further trouble. And the spiritual association is pushing the importance of ethics among spiritualists.

Could this controversy, along with the economic downturn, bring some reforms to the New Age movement? Or will it be business as usual once this controversy fades and the economy picks up? As for James Arthur Ray, his trial over the sweat-lodge deaths is scheduled to start in mid-February. You can be sure I’ll be following it here.

Spirit Day: Today is Spirit Day, an effort to show support for those who have taken their lives due to anti-LGBTQ bullying. While much of the Internet is rallying to turn their profiles purple, some LGBTQ Pagans, like author and academic P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, are questioning how useful the day, and the message of “it gets better”, really are.

“Which leads me to the second point: “it” doesn’t get better; you just learn to put up with it more, and as you grow stronger in your own sense of self and identity, it bothers you less that other people think these things, say these things, and could potentially threaten you with physical violence and worse (as happened recently in New Jersey to several people)…but, you push through it and you don’t let them frighten you or bother you or dissuade you from living your life the way you want to live it. Every time I step into an LGBTQI event, or a march, or a gathering, it is possible some homophobe with serious insecurities and some religiously-inspired foolish notions may come in and decide to attack me or my friends. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I prepare for the contingency that it might. And as far as I’m concerned, they can bring it all they want–they will not get me without a damn good fight.

So, yes, one hopes that it does get better, but I cannot assure that it will for everyone or that such is the case everywhere in the world. Giving the message to teenagers that you just have to put up with it and tough it out (and that one is possibly deficient if one doesn’t feel up to it or can’t do it) is not a good thing, in my estimation–it seems like blaming the victim to me, and I am totally against that.”

Lupus suggests finding strength and solace in prayer and spiritual work, and has provided a spell against homophobia, and a prayer against persecution. What do you think? Is Spirit Day a worthwhile endeavor that will change opinions, or is it merely a purple-colored band-aid on a much deeper problem? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

ADDENDUM: For another Pagan perspective on Spirit Day, check out T. Thorn Coyle, who is taking up the call from two powerful goddesses to go into battle and teach power and respect.

“I want to see us teaching power and respect. I want to see us supporting each other to stand tall, rather than cutting the tallest person in the room down to a more comfortable size. Many people I know are teaching this to their teens and children, and trying to do this in their communities. This Samhaintide, can we all commit to doing a bit more? Can we examine the ways in which we – personally or communally – are acting out of disrespect, fear, force, or powerlessness?

Last year, some of us made a pledge to the Morrigan to help each other grow strong. For myself, I have done more work getting body and soul to a place of health and fitness than ever before. I have gained muscle and am gaining weight. My core is bigger. I’ve trained. I’m back studying hand-to-hand combat with a teacher who is even more skilled than the one I had before. I know that others have been training, too. This Samhain, my community is honoring our promise by teaching and learning basic self-defense. This starts with physical posture and extends to our energy bodies. The presence of centered pride in our midst immediately ratchets up the presence of self-respect in the room. That is where we will begin. From there, we will learn to move, to defend, to break out of locks and set ourselves free.

My hope is that this workshop, this simple introduction to self-defense, will be able to be taught in multiple places. It feels important enough to my partner and I that we have submitted a proposal to teach it at Pantheacon and I am already planning to take it to Houston. We don’t have any certificates saying we are qualified to do this. All we have is our own training, a push from two powerful Goddesses, a call from community, and this need. This need arises from the images of every youth who committed suicide this year. If parents, children, and friends all carry a sense of internal power and help foster that in each other, everything in the world changes.”

Feel free to share other Pagan perspectives on Spirit Day in the comments!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

On Tuesday a special election is being held in Massachusetts to pick the replacement for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, and despite the fact that the state is solidly liberal and reliably Democratic, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. Certainly part of it is that Scott Brown has been presenting as a liberal-ish Republican (except when he doesn’t), and has been running a tight campaign, but it’s also due to the fact that Democratic candidate Martha Coakley has done a terrible job, treating her election as fait accompli, and failing to energize voters. Which brings us to why I’m commenting on this race, Coakley’s involvement in the notorious Fells Acres Day Care Case. While Coakley didn’t prosecute the case, one of the most high-profile “ritual abuse” trials of the 1980s, she subsequently spent years defending the convictions as D.A., still insists the family was guilty, and placed bizarre restrictions on the accused once they were released.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

It would be fair to say that electing a possible Satanic Ritual Abuse/Organized Ritual Abuse true-believer to the Senate has made several Pagans, especially the ones who lived through the moral panics of 1980s, uneasy.

“It’s like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. “Spectral evidence.” On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy. The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults’ case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind. She is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat. But I don’t care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.  For that reason alone–for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters–if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.”

Chas Clifton’s sentiments are echoed by Beliefnet Pagan blogger Gus diZerega.

“Perhaps most revealing with respect to Coakley was the conditions she imposed on people she allowed to be released after years of confinement.  They could not talk to the press nor could their lawyer be used to help another family member.  These conditions have nothing to do with guilt or innocence and a great deal to do with covering up abuses of power.  What was Coakley hiding?  We have seen a lot of such abuses and we do not need another Democrat inclined to do the same.  There already are more than enough Democrats and Republicans of that ilk.”

Her participation in moral panics are bad enough, but her steadfast defense of the Fells Acres convictions seems to also extend to a “law enforcement doesn’t make mistakes and shouldn’t be questioned” philosophy.

“Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.”

Of course, with Obama’s health care plan possibly on the line, many are urging voters to “hold their nose” and vote for Coakley anyway. Indeed, I know of some Massachusetts Pagans who’ve indicated that they will be (reluctantly) voting for Coakley, and a commenter on Chas Clifton’s blog sums up many of their talking points.

“I understand your feelings, but I’m a Masschusetts voter, and I will vote for Martha Coakley.  The whole SRA thing was a travesty, but even so Coakley is much better than her Republican opponent Scott Brown, who is anti-choice for women, pro-death penalty, opposed to the public health care legislation, and opposed to gay marriage (which we already have in Massachusetts). Coakley isn’t perfect, but if Brown is elected it will be a disaster for our state and country.”

I want health care reform too, heck, I want a single payer system! I’m also pro-choice, but I’m troubled when serious accusations about a candidate abusing their powers are made, and then swept aside in the name of party unity and the fear of legislative gridlock. The Boston Globe, in endorsing Coakley, praises her for “prosecuting child abusers”, never noting that some of those alleged abusers may have been completely innocent. As I’ve said before, I truly hope Coakley isn’t a SRA true-believer, because if we do see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail.

So, to my Massachusetts readers, who are you voting for? Why? Do certain issues trump others, no matter how serious they may be? I’d really like to know, because I certainly don’t envy your choices right now. Perhaps that is why some Democrats are already spinning for a Coakley loss?

A recent column by Francis Wilkinson in The Week Magazine puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is a front-runner for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. It seems her role in the notorious  Fells Acres Day Care Case is causing some waves among Democrats with a long memory for abuses of power.

“Coakley did not prosecute the case, which was already under way when she joined the office as an assistant district attorney in 1986. But years later, after the day-care abuse hysteria had subsided and she had won the office’s top job, she worked to keep the convicted “ringleader,” Gerald Amirault, behind bars despite widespread doubts that a crime had been committed … the convictions won by the Middlesex DA in the Fells Acres case have not borne up well. By today’s standards, the prosecution of the Amirault family, who owned and operated the day-care center in Malden, Mass., looks like a master class in battling witchcraft.”

It looked like “battling witchcraft” because these “ritual abuse” (aka “Satanic abuse” or “organized abuse”) cases often hinged on rumours and false testimony of an imaginary network of underground Satanic sex and abuse-cults. Children were often prodded and coaxed into false testimony, much of which is recanted when those same children grow up, and many innocent men and women spent years, sometimes decades, of their lives behind bars. In the instance of the Fells Acres case, children were interviewed by nurse and SRA true-believer Susan J. Kelley, who elicited flatly implausible testimony about sex with bladed implements and “clowns” in “magic rooms” from children that a judge later called “improper” and “biased”.

“The evidence in this case is nothing short of overwhelming with improper interviewing techniques. The bias toward the Amiraults by investigators and interviewers from the beginning. Parental and other family influences. All of it leading to these tragic results.”

Despite the mounting evidence that this case was handled improperly, and that it was very likely the Amirault family were innocent of the charges brought against them, Coakley stubbornly refused to revisit the case. As D.A. she opposed parole for the family despite many lawyers thinking this was a “travesty” of justice, and she made strange conditions for the release of Cheryl Amirault LeFave.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

These conditions, and this case, has made some Democrats uneasy about her candidacy, and seems to be causing her supporters to close ranks on the issue. As for Coakley, she defends her decisions regarding the case, saying she feels the Amirault family were indeed guilty.

“Based on my own extensive experience with child abuse investigations and cases, and my thorough review of all the evidence, including that which is often taken out of context and deemed “exculpatory,” I also believe the convictions were sound, and that he received a fair trial. It is for all of the above reasons that I, as Middlesex District Attorney, opposed his commutation, and I stand by that decision to this day.”

One wonders if this is a case of not wanting to admit to a mistake, access to some sort of mysterious insider knowledge that several lawyers, reporters, judges, and parole boards don’t have, or if Coakley is (like the judge that oversaw Gerald Amirault’s trial) an SRA true-believer. I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter, because if we see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail based almost solely on improperly gathered testimony and hysteria.

Rather than going away, the incident involving the first Hindu to give the opening prayer before the Senate seems to be picking up stream. US Hindu groups have demanded that Presidential candidates respond to the incident (none have at this point), and that demand is now being echoed by the Baptist Join Committee for Religious Liberty and by professor of religion Melissa Rogers.

“Let me also say that the presidential candidates should address this issue for reasons that go beyond the notion of common decency. They should address this situation because it gets at a fundamental constitutional and ethical matter — whether we believe that the government must treat all religions equally.”

The Washinton Post’s “On Faith” blog has posed a question on the issue to its panel of religious leaders, academics, and experts. From these panelists I’m particularly fond of Chester Gillis’ answer.

“Granted that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, we have only officially been “One Nation under God” since June 14, 1954, when President Eisenhower signed the law adding these words to the Pledge of Allegiance (which itself was written in 1892), so the notion of a nation of believers is relatively recent in our history. If we are going to give religion a place in public life, then it should not just be one religion. We are a nation of many religions. Just as the military employs chaplains from a variety of religions, so, too, representatives of these religions should have equal opportunities to offer public prayer. Those Americans who say “give me that old time religion” simply need to recall that Hinduism – truly an old time religion – predates Judaism and Christianity.”

Rajan Zed also gives his take on this subject as a guest On Faith panelist.

“All of us are looking for the truth. Dialogue brings us mutual enrichment. We may learn from each other as we are headed in the same direction. We should at least cooperate in the common causes of peace, human development, love, and respect for others.”

Finally, the Indian press (which has been reporting this story with great interest) notes that the Rev. Rajan Zed was given a heroes welcome upon return to his home in Nevada.

“Rajan Zed, whose historic first Hindu prayer in the American Senate early this month faced protests from the visitors’ gallery, was honoured in Nevada. Various religious and community leaders came together on Wednesday and honoured Zed for his “selfless service” in bringing different communities together … Zed, who is the director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nevada, was garlanded by Reverend Gene Savoy Jr., president of Nevada Clergy Association. He was presented with a plaque by Rabbi Myra on behalf of the interfaith community of northern Nevada, which said, ‘The interfaith clergy and leaders of northern Nevada proudly recognise and honour this unprecedented achievement.’”

Will any of the candidates speak up on this issue? Which future leader (if any) will present themselves as concerned about the rights of minority religions in America? Millions of “other” voters await a sign.

Remember the controversy last week over a small group of Christian protesters interrupting the first Hindu to give the opening prayer in the US Senate? Well it seems that American Hindu groups aren’t satisfied with Harry Reid’s defense of the religion, and are asking all the presidential hopefuls to denounce the Christians involved in calling chaplain Rajan Zed an “abomination”.

“U.S. Hindu organizations are urging presidential candidates to denounce the protesters who disrupted the Senate as the first-ever Hindu opening prayer was being delivered this month … Although the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington issued a statement July 17 saying its members were “deeply saddened” by the interruption, no senators present spoke out against it publicly, according to the Hindu American Foundation and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Both organizations said they are disappointed with the legislators, and they sent letters this week to presidential candidates and senators, asking them to condemn the incident.”

So if you were wondering which candidate (from either party) is going to be the most receptive to the rights of minority faiths, here is the moment of truth. With the three Democratic front-runners embracing their Christian allegiance as hard as they can, will any of them dare to defend conceptions of the divine that go beyond the Abrahamic norms? Will Republican candidates stay utterly silent for fear of further offending the already dissatisfied conservative Christian voting bloc that are especially influential during the primaries? I’ll be watching the news to see where those of who check “other”* on religious surveys can place our trust (at least regarding this issue).

* There are over eight million “others” in American now, including a million modern Pagans, approximately two million Hindus, close to four million Buddhists, hundreds of thousands of Native American practitioners, 60,000 Taoists, and close to a million Santerians.

Yesterday in the Senate chambers, three Christian protesters shouted down a Hindu chaplain before being forcibly removed by the Capitol police. This was the first time the daily prayer that opens Senate proceedings was said by a Hindu (the House of Representatives had a Hindu chaplain open their session in 2000).

“…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.’”

The protesters, who are members of Operation Save America (apparently there were no fetal Americans in peril at that particular moment), have the full backing of their organizations director the Rev. Flip Benham who chastised the Senators for not imitating Christ by acting like rude jerks.

“Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! There were three in the audience with the courage to stand and proclaim, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ They were immediately removed from the chambers, arrested, and are in jail now. God bless those who stand for Jesus as we know that He stands for them.”

One can only wonder which Founding Fathers he means, the Deists? The Freemasons? Thomas Jefferson certainly stood by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but only after he edited out all the supernatural elements and “errors”. But that doesn’t stop certain conservative Christian “historians” from putting forth anti-polytheist interpretations of religious freedom in America.

“The Hindu prayer was also questioned by a Christian historian who maintained 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 (sic), you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods,’ the Christian historian David Barton maintained. ‘And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration [of Independence] when they talked about Creator – that’s not one that fits here because we don’t know which creator we’re talking about within the Hindu religion.’”

Sadly, instead of stepping up and blasting these religious bigots, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who had invited Chaplain Rajan Zed) gave some flat platitudes about Hinduism and peace.

“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,”

Which I think proves a point that politicians today are more concerned with not alienating Christian voters (even Christians voters who would never vote Democratic), than they are with standing up for the principles our country was founded on. You can be sure that any of our Presidential candidates running for office now will be more than willing to throw non-Christian faiths under the bus the minute they risk losing a bit of popularity in the polls. Sadly it looks like we aren’t ready to fully welcome non-monotheist expressions of faith into our political system.