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Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala:
The Family Research Council
Versus a Hindu Priest

By Jesse Monteagudo

The Family Research Council (FRC) recently took time out from bashing gays and lesbians to attack religious minorities. The cause of the FRC's attack was a prayer given by Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, priest of the Vishnu Temple in Parma, Ohio, before a session of Congress. As the first Hindu religious leader to give a Congressional invocation, Samuldrala was praised as a symbol of our country's growing religious pluralism. The FRC, on the other hand, did not approve.

"[W]hile it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all," noted the FRC in its CultureFacts newsletter, "that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage. . . . Our Founders expected that Christianity - and no other religion - would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference. . . ."

According to the FRC, "religious pluralism" leads to "moral relativism and ethical chaos". Its idea of religious "tolerance" is one that "embraces biblical truth while allowing freedom of conscience . . . As for our Hindu priest friend, the United States is a nation that has historically honored the One True God . . . Woe be to us on that day when we relegate Him to being merely one among countless other deities in the pantheon of theologies." Samuldrala might not want to return the FRC's "friendship", or appreciate that group's suggestion that his Hinduism--a time-honored faith older than Christianity--is "pagan".

The FRC's attack, coming from an organization whose self-proclaimed goal is the freedom of religion, was hotly criticized. Because of this criticism, the FRC deleted the offending article from its Web site (and then backtracked a bit when Chuck Donovan, FRC Executive Vice President, issued a "clarification":

"It is the position of the Family Research Council that governments must respect freedom of conscience for all people in religious matters. . . . We affirm the truth of Christianity, but it is not our position that America's Constitution forbids representatives of religions other than Christianity from praying before Congress. We recognize that decisions on this matter are the prerogative of each house of Congress."

Donovan went on to deplore the persecution of Christians in India, China, the Sudan and other places.

The FRC's attack on non-Christian faiths does not surprise me. In fact, nothing that the FRC says or does surprises me. The FRC, after all, is the group that thought Earth Day was a communist plot: "The socialist-leaning movement known as environmentalism is observing the 30th Annual Earth Day, which happens to coincide with communist dictator Nikolai Lenin's birthday," it said.

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More recently, the FRC accused the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival of "child sexual abuse" "in the form of children being in close proximity to graphic sexual behavior." (Some women take their daughters to the Festival; and some women--not necessarily the same ones--take advantage of the women-only environment to go topless or nude.)

However, since most FRC blasts are aimed at queers or other marginal minorities, most American have ignored this organization. By attacking Samuldrala, the FRC has gone after a more visible target.

There is a common misconception - popularized by Republican and Democratic politicians alike - that our country's Founders were born-again types who wanted the US to be a "Christian republic".

In fact, according to the American Humanist Association's Web site, ("Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were all deists or freethinkers. . . . [T]hese founding fathers were not interested in identifying the government of the new country with a religious concept of any specific kind." Jefferson, who in his time was attacked as an "atheist", wrote that religious liberty was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan [sic], the Hindu, and the infidel of every denomination." Washington, writing to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, noted that "The Government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Ironically, Donovan quotes Washington in his "clarification".

Perhaps it was easier to support religious pluralism earlier in American history, when the only non-Christian sect (not counting Native American faiths) was a Judaism that Christians were familiar with and which had given Christianity half of its scriptures and all of its moral code.

But with the influx of non-"Judeo-Christian" faiths (and, as a Jew, I find that term patronizing) - such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Santeria--many Americans have started to doubt their commitment to religious freedom. The FRC encourages those doubts, and promotes a one-sided interpretation of the doctrine of Separation of Church and State that would prevent government intrusion on religious belief but would allow churches to impose their narrow standards on the body politic.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, applies all of us; unpopular minorities as well as "popular" majorities.

In its attack on the Hindu priest's invocation, the FRC has revealed its true colors. Perhaps Americans who have ignored the FRC for too long will now wake up and realize how dangerous this group really is.

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