Senate Prayer Led by Hindu Elicits Protest

Associated Press
Friday, July 13, 2007

A Hindu clergyman made history yesterday by offering the Senate's morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three protesters from the visitors' gallery.

Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nev., gave the prayer that opens each day's Senate session. As he stood at the lectern in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting "this is an abomination" and other complaints from the gallery.

Police officers arrested them and charged them disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester said "we are Christians and patriots" before police led them away. Police identified the protesters as Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar. Their home towns were not available.

For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be "seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god."

Zed, the first Hindu to offer the Senate prayer, began: "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. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds."

Zed, who was born in India, was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) He defended the choice and linked it to the war debate. "If people have any misunderstanding about Indians and Hindus," Reid said, "all they have to do is think of Gandhi," a man "who gave his life for peace."

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