The Family Research Council's scurrilous attack on a Hindu priest's prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives "reeks of religious bigotry," said Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a watchdog group that monitors the Religious Right.
Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, a Hindu priest with the Shiva Vishnu Temple in Parma, Ohio, made history on Sept. 14 by becoming the first Hindu religious leader to offer an invocation before a session of Congress.
In response to the prayer, the Family Research Council, the most prominent Religious Right lobbying group in Washington, D.C., disparaged religious pluralism and said only Christianity deserves government support in this week's edition of the group's CultureFacts newsletter.
"(W)hile it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all," the FRC wrote, "that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage."
The group added, "Our Founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said an attack such as this is telling about the Religious Right's regard for non-Christian religious minorities.
"The FRC's attack reeks of religious bigotry," Lynn said. "Despite years of claiming support for religious liberty, the truth has come out. This is an outrageous act of prejudice and it should be condemned by decent people everywhere."
The FRC, a spin-off of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, went on to describe "religious pluralism" as leading to "moral relativism and ethical chaos," while approving of tolerance that "embraces biblical truth while allowing freedom of conscience."
"As for our Hindu priest friend, the United States is a nation that has historically honored the One True God," the FRC's newsletter concluded. "Woe be to us on that day when we relegate Him to being merely one among countless other deities in the pantheon of theologies."
Responded AU's Lynn, "Sounds like our 'friends' at the FRC need to go back to a high school history class. And while they're at it, maybe they should stop by a kindergarten class to learn something about respect for people's differences.
"It is truly rare, even within the Religious Right, to see a group display simultaneously such a poor understanding of history and a remarkable lack of respect for religious diversity," Lynn continued. "Usually, profound ignorance like this is commonly found in the 18th, not the 21st, century.
"Contrary to the FRC's views, there are no second-class religions in America," Lynn added. "Hindus, Muslims, Jews and other non-Christian faiths are equal in the eyes of the law."
Lynn pointed to the words of Thomas Jefferson, a leading figure in the development of religious freedom in America. In his autobiography, Jefferson said that the concept of religious liberty was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan, the Hindoo, and the infidel of every denomination."
Lynn said, "The FRC has thoroughly embarrassed itself. Unfortunately, their bigotry probably blinds them as to why they should be embarrassed at all.
"Despite the FRC's ridiculous rhetoric, the truth remains the United States was founded on principles that embraced all people, regardless of their religious tradition," Lynn concluded. "That's why our Founding Fathers insisted on a separation of church and state, to protect the rights of everyone without governmental aid or interference."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.