When the Virginia bill for establishing religious freedom was finally passed, a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal.
Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion."
"The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination."
-- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821.
A small group of religious right activists invaded the Senate chambers Thursday morning to shout down the priest who was giving the morning prayer. The three protesters, all members of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, drove all the way from North Carolina for this purpose. Why were they so intent on disrupting someone else at prayer? Because he wasn't a Christian.
Thursday morning should have been a proud moment for us. For the very first time in US history, a Hindu was to deliver the morning prayer in one of the houses of congress. Hindus and Indians are among the fastest growing minorities in America. The prayer was to be a recognition that they are a recognised part of the starnge mix of peoples that make up this country. The cleric, Rajan Zed, had already made history by being the first Hindu to give an opening prayer to a state legislature in Nevada. Now he was set to make history on the national stage.
But, as soon as he began his invocation, he was interrupted by the loud voice of Ante Pavkovic in the gallery: "Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You."
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), as the presiding officer for the morning, ordered Pavkovic and his two fellow protesters, his wife Kathy and their daughter Kristin Sugar, removed from the chambers. As the guards hauled them away, they continued to shout, "No Lord but Jesus Christ!" and "There's only one true God!"
Zed recovered and continued his invocation, but the moment had been soiled. What should have been remembered as an historic first, will now be remembered as an obnoxious display of un-American intolerance.
A press release from Operation Save America proudly took credit for the criminal act of rudeness.
Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god. The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.
As the quote at the top of this post shows, their opinion of the founding fathers can only hold water if they first eject Thomas Jefferson from the fold.
Operation Save America was not the only religious right group to be disturbed at the thought of a non-Christian offering a prayer in congress. The American Family Association quoted the founder of WallBuilders in an action alert to their members that encouraged them to let Congress know about their displeasure.
WallBuilders president David Barton is questioning why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god. Barton points out that since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto "One Nation Under God."
Barton demonstrates the ignorant myth making typical of Christian nationalists. "One Nation Under God" is not the motto of the United States. It is a line from the pledge of allegiance, and a line that was not written by its original author Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and socialist, in 1891. The words "under God" were added to the pledge by an act of Congress on the prompting of the Knights of Columbus in 1954. The object was to highlight the contrast between us and the godless Communists. The official motto of the United Staes is "E pluribus unum." Barton claims to be an historian and constitutional scholar, but public statements like this show to be either a completely dishonest scholar or a very bad scholar.
Just for fun, Google the name Ante Pavkovic, one of the protesters. You'll get a few hundred results; there are a few Ante Pavkovics in the world. Depending on how you misspelled his name, the Google spell checker might ask if you really meant to hunt for Ante Pavelic. I'll save you the trouble. Ante Pavelic was the leader of Croatia during WWII. He was a former seminary student and petty politician who took over the Croatian national movement in the early thirties and converted it into a fascist ethnic movement--the Ustasha. For his part in helping to dismember Yugoslavia, Hitler rewarded him with his own country that included Croatia, Bosnia, and a corner of northwest Serbia called the Srem (Syrmia or Srijem). During the war he attempted an ethnic clensing of the Serbs and deported Jews to German death camps. He escaped at the end of the war and was sheltered by Franco for the rest of his days.
To point out the similarity in their names is more than a cheap shot on my part. Pavkovic is not only engaging in brownshirt tactics (he is a fairly old hand as a professional protester in the pro-life movement); he is attempting to bring the sins of the old world into the new by embracing the idea that an American nationalism must be exclusive rather than inclusive. While most European nationalities are primarily defined by language, the Serbs and Croats of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries drew a line between themselves based on religion; they speak the same language (imagine if the Germans had done this). Pavkovic and most of the religious want to define "American" based on a certain form of conservative Protestantism (they tolerate Catholics as allies right now, but if they ever defeat us secularists, Catholics will be the next to go). Pavkovic has carried his Balkan battles over to America and applied them to a new enemy.
It's often been observed that recent converts are the most obnoxious religious types; the same is true for nationalism. The founders of the American republic had many differences, but they all wanted to leave Old World politics behind them. And to the vast majority that meant state sponsored religion. Even the deeply religious saw state sponsored "official" religion as a threat to the country they were building. That is why the Constitution specifically prohibited religious requirements for office or any mention of America as a Christian country.
Nation building and nationalism always involves a shameless rewriting of history. In this respect, the current Christian nationalists are no worse than the teachers who taught me that American history was a happy march of progress that accepted anyone into its "melting pot." While both versions of history are equally wrong, they are not equally pernicious. The cheery melting pot I grew up with was inclusive it taught that given enough time everyone would be welcomed into the big American family, even the Irish. Christian nationalism is exclusive, it limits membership into the American family to a select few while designating all others as tolerated foreigners or targets for expulsion. While both versions of history might be equally subject to condemnation for being wrong, as programs for the future, the ideologies they represent are not equal. We must choose between inclusion or exclusion a goal for America. I choose inclusion.
The Pavkovics are associated with the group that sent teen-aged girls to Terri Schiavo's hospice to stand around wearing red duct tape over their mouths. Too bad they didn't bring their tape with them Thursday.