Freedom of religion and the U.S. SenateMuch ado has been made on the Left and the Right of the shouting down of a Hindu holy man who was invited to give the opening prayer before the United States Senate. While I have no doubt that the entire episode was an engineered "multicultural" stunt, the reaction of certain people on the religious right to the entire affair has been at the very least inappropriate and at the most has been hideous.
In advance of the spectacle I received an e-mail from the American Family Association asking that I call my Senator and demand that a stop be put to what the message called "blasphemy." My wife rightly pointed out that if a Hindu can be prohibited from saying a prayer before Congress, what is to prevent a priest or a minister from also being forbidden? Nothing, of course-in fact it could be argued that forbidding the man from saying his prayer sets a very dangerous precedent.
I have long been in agreement with those who say that the decline of Christianity as the great religious force in our society has ultimately led to the exacerbation of nearly every social problem that we face as a nation (Note that I am not saying that these problems would not exist in a more Christian society, merely that the lack of one worsens the problems we have.). Further, I believe that the founders of our country were very clear in their intent by their writings and statements that they intended to establish freedom of religion in America, but not freedom from religion. A prime example of this principle would be in my own hometown, where I have never attended a city council meeting that did not open with prayer, nor heard a prayer there that did not specifically mention Christ in this very Christian town-if you don't like it, you don't have to pray and no one will make you.
Because we have a society in which there is freedom of religion, many religious groups will flourish within it. If a minister or priest of the Gospel has a right to pray before Congress by appointment-as surely they do-then so does a person of the Hindu faith, or otherwise we have no right to proclaim the name of God in a public setting. If you don't like it, no one is forcing you to agree with it by praying along. My freedom to believe in Christ is dependent in part on this Hindu's freedom to believe as he does.
Those who made a fuss over the prayer should remember how they might feel if a minister of Christ were treated in the same fashion.