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For the first time in history, the United States Senate welcomed a Hindu to give its opening prayer last Thursday. After Rajan Zed sprinkled ritual water from the Ganges River around the Senate rostrum, he proclaimed, “We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of the heaven.” Hindus believe not just in a god that is one with the universe and with nature but in many gods, beliefs that are completely inconsistent with a belief in the Creator God of the Holy Scriptures and the Christian faith upon which our nation is founded. Our Founding Fathers knew better – and so should our senators.
On a hot summer day in Philadelphia in 1787, when the members of the Constitutional Convention had reached an impasse in their heated deliberations of nearly five weeks, the eldest statesman in the room rose slowly to his feet. Addressing George Washington, the president of the Convention, Benjamin Franklin asked:
How has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.
Franklin knew what some of our senators have forgotten: that it was the God of the Bible and not Allah, Buddha or one of the many gods of the Hindu faith who provided and sustained us during our formative years.
Our first Congress in September of 1774 opened with a Christian prayer and the reading of Psalm 35, a prayer of David for protection against enemies. Every Congress since has opened with prayer, as does the legislative body of nearly every state. Both Houses of Congress have had Christian chaplains since their inception in 1789.
When the office of chaplain was challenged in 1853, both Houses responded with reports from their respective Judiciary Committees that defended the chaplaincy as not only constitutional but entirely appropriate for a Christian nation. The Senate report specifically concluded that the battles of the Revolution and the deliberations of the Continental Congress all had been performed “with a continual appeal to the Supreme Ruler of the world and a habitual reliance upon His protection of the righteous cause which they commended to His care.” Similarly, on March 3, 1863, during the bloody Civil War, the Senate passed a resolution asking the president to declare a national day of “prayer and humiliation,” noting that the Senate “devoutly recogniz[ed] the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, and sincerely believ[ed] that no people, however great in number, or however strong in the justice of their cause, can prosper without His favor.”
But too often today, the public recognition of God is under attack. “One Nation Under God” in our Pledge has been declared unconstitutional by a federal court in California, while our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is under scrutiny by another federal court in that state. Sadly, those references to God that courts do allow are permitted only as “ceremonial deism” – that is, a historical tradition that, the courts say, through repetition has lost its “religious significance” and does not really address or recognize the sovereign God. Thus, public prayers in state and local legislatures and in the military are approved if they are “nonsectarian” in nature and do not address or name a particular God.
It is particularly troubling to see the U.S. Senate disregard a long history of Christian prayers in favor of modern, pluralistic prayers to gods that have no relationship to this country or the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we cherish. Mr. Zed certainly has the freedom to exercise his Hindu beliefs, but only because that is an unalienable right given by the God of creation and protected in this land. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc., have freedom of conscience in this country that is not extended to Christians in other nations under other “gods.” Our government should and indeed must affirm that Almighty God is the source of that right for it to continue.
Benjamin Franklin could ask of this country and our Senate what he asked at the Constitutional Convention: “And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?” Franklin then reminded the Convention of Psalm 127: “We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.”
The surest way for our senators to “labor in vain” and incur the Lord’s judgment is to continue the rejection and denial of God at the start of their daily business. Deuteronomy 8:19 warns, “And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them … ye shall surely perish.” Ironically, on the walls of the chamber in which Mr. Zed gave his Hindu prayer are inscribed the phrases “In God We Trust” and “Annuit Coeptis,” Latin for “God has favored our undertakings.” Our senators must acknowledge that one, true God in Whom America has trusted. The handwriting is, literally, on their wall.
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