A Hindu chaplain will lead the U.S. Senate in prayer this month.
On July 12, Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Nevada, will open the Senate’s morning session with prayer - something normally seen as a Judeo-Christian tradition.
Christian senators, in response, have expressed their approval of the event because it reflects the right to free speech in the government body.
“July 12 will be an illustrious day for all Americans,” explained Zed in a statement, “and a memorable day for Indian Americans when prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures will be read in the great hall of democracy.”
Since 1789, the Senate has opened its workday with prayer. The practice is a rare relic among the government since officials have tried to keep a strict separation of church and state in recent years.
Normally, the prayer is given by the Senate Chaplain, currently Barry Black, a Seventh Day Adventist, but it is not uncommon for senators to recommend guest chaplains from their home states to start the day.
It is, however, rare for a Hindu to lead the spiritual act. The only other recorded time that a Hindu offered the opening prayer at a legislative session was in 2006 when Pandit Krishna Pandey prayed in Sanskrit and English to open Iowa's House and Senate session.
Zed has explained that he will recite something from the Rig Veda, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, but the content will be more universal in nature.
"I believe that despite our philosophical differences, we should work together for the common objectives of human improvement, love, and respect for others," the former India-native told Cybercast News Service.
Zed has also given the opening prayer in the Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate this past March and May, respectively.
He is not the first non-Christian or non-Jew to lead a Senate invocation. Wallace Mohammed became the first Muslim to recite a prayer in 1992.
According to the Times of India, there is an estimated 2 million Indian-Americans in the United States, with another one million as part of Hindu groups such as ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) – also known as the 'Hare Krishna' movement.