News / USA

US Legislators Embracing Different Religions

US Legislators Embracing Different Religionsi
X
April 12, 2013 10:25 PM
Half a century ago, 75 percent of the US Congress was of the Protestant Christian religion. And all legislators were sworn into office on the Bible. Things have changed. History is being made in Washington, with the first Buddhist as a Senator and the first Hindu holding a national office. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti looks at religion in a legislature that abides by the U.S. Constitution’s implied rule of separation of church and state.
Half a century ago, 75 percent of the US Congress was of the Protestant Christian religion. And all legislators were sworn into office on the Bible. Things have changed. History is being made in Washington, with the first Buddhist as a Senator and the first Hindu holding a national office. It's a legislature that abides by the U.S. Constitution’s implied rule of separation of church and state.

It is prayer hour inside the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple. With 17 deities, it is one of the largest temples in the Western Hemisphere.

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world. But it took until last year for the first Hindu to be elected to a national office in the United States. She is Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

"Her duty and action is to serve the people of Hawaii,” said Siva Subramaniam, who is founder and chairman emeritus at the temple.  

“Karma is one of the 3 or 4 paths in which you follow the scripture to realize God," said said Siva Subramaniam.

Many paths

Years ago, practicing a religion other than Protestant Christianity could hinder congressional candidates. Now it's even okay to have no faith. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the first representative in history to list her religion as "none."

And, Mazie Hirono is the first to bring Buddhism to the U.S. Senate.

“Buddhism is a way of life. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to chant. That’s why I embrace Buddhism as a way to be respectful of other people’s thoughts and religions,” said Hirono.

Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera is a Unitarian, but he samples different churches every Sunday in his California district. This week, it’s Methodist.

“Core to being a Unitarian Universalist is that we believe in one god, but many paths to that one god,” he said.

Bera chose to use the Bible when he was sworn in as a Congressman. Sinema, a copy of the U.S. constitution. Gabbard carried the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text. And Congressman Andre Carson used the religious book of Islam.

“It’s always been the constitution, but we switched it up this time with the Q'uran,” he said.

Carson is one of two Muslims in Congress.

“I think most of us support a separation of church and state, but, having said that, we all value the fact that America is a pluralistic society, and it’s a society that embraces all religions all faiths, all ethnic groups.”

Lawmakers and prayer

Sixty years ago, congress established a prayer room inside the capitol. The media is not allowed in - it’s only for senators and representatives. It’s a simple room, with a stained glass window, featuring the nation’s first president - George Washington - kneeling in prayer.

Father Patrick Conroy is chaplain of the House of Representatives. The same framers of the constitution who promoted a separation of church and state also were the first to appoint a chaplain. Every chaplain since 1789 has been Christian, though Conroy emphasizes inclusion.

“The prayers I offer are for the whole House. For the government, for our nation and for our world,” he said.

Analysts doubt the increasing religious diversity will change the way lawmakers vote or the way Americans vote for their legislators. It does make a promise to the next generation, though, that they'll grow up knowing their religion will not overshadow an opportunity to serve.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Daya Reiger from: Austin, TX
April 13, 2013 12:35 PM
It's inspiring that our government is actually beginning to better reflect the people that it represents.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid