|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
"[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."
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
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.