Idaho legislators boycott Hindu Invocation

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez |

(KTVB news report screen shot)

BOISE, Idaho (Christian Examiner) -- When the Idaho Senate convened with a Hindu prayer last Tuesday, March 3, three Republican legislators refused to attend the opening invocation because of their shared belief that America is a Christian nation.

Among those who bowed out of the prayer by Rajan Zed, a Hindu cleric who was guest chaplain for the day, were Senators Steve Vick of Dalton Garden, Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Lori Den Hartog of Meridian.

Nuxoll said she declined to attend the prayer, delivered in English and Sanskrit, because the foundation of the Hindu faith differs in ideology than that of Christianity. Nuxoll suggested she may have attended if a Christian prayer was offered as well.

"Hindu is a false faith with false gods," she said. "I think it's great that Hindu people can practice their religion but since we're the Senate, we're setting an example of what we, Idaho, believe."

Nuxoll later clarified to the Spokesman-Review, she meant only to say Hinduism was based on "false gods," but refused to apologize for her opinions.

According to the Associate Press, prayer is a regular practice of Idaho's Republican-controlled statehouse. Both the Senate and House begin daily legislative sessions with prayers typically led by Christian chaplains.

(KTVB news report screen shot)Idaho Senator Steve Vick (R) walked out of the Hindu invocation that opened the legislative session last week. Vick claims his actions were intended to make a statement and believes the Hindu faith should not be elevated by the government.

Senator Vick announced his objections the day before, and walked out of the Senate chamber before Zed's invocation because he felt the Hindu prayer should not be allowed since the U.S. was "built on Judeo-Christian not only religion but work ethic," according to India West.

Vick made clear to local news station, KTVB-TV his objection to the prayer was not about religious freedom.

"His first amendment rights and my first amendment rights are not violated by him being here," Vick said. "It's more a government endorsement of that that I'm opposed to. I don't want to be seen as our country moving away from our Judeo-Christian traditions toward Hindu traditions by elevating him and this religion in that way."

Den Hartog, who also boycotted the prayer, told AP her absence from the invocation was a "personal decision" based on her own Christian faith.

Zed told KTVC that most of the legislators welcomed him warmly and he never had someone walk out on his prayer before.

"We all have different viewpoints, and that is wonderful, that is what makes our country great. We are all looking for the truth. If we can join our resources together, we can reach there faster."

Zed reportedly was invited by Brent Hill, president pro tempore of the Senate, after the cleric requested to deliver the invocation.

According to The Idaho Statesman, Hill responded to pre-session protests by evaluating the prayer ahead of time. "I reviewed the prayer. It did not seem offensive in any way," he said.

"In my mind, you either believe in religious freedom or you don't," he said, noting that previous guest chaplains have offered "Jewish prayers (and) many denominations of Christian prayers."

Zed is the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism and has previously delivered traditional Hindu prayers for the invocation of a number of state legislatures. He has also led the invocation at the U.S. House and Senate.