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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More