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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid