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 TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora