Three Christian lawmakers are receiving criticism after refusing to attend the Idaho Senate's daily invocation due to the offering up of a Hindu prayer by a guest chaplain.
According to the Associated Press, the Idaho Senate and House convene each day with a prayer by the chamber's chaplains from Christian denominations followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. However, on Tuesday, Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain, gave a lengthy prayer in both English and Sanskrit which reportedly focused on selflessness and peace, receiving praise from many attendees.
Three Republican lawmakers, Sens. Steve Vick of Dalton Garden, Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Lori Den Hartog of Meridian, refused to attend the invocation, only returning to the floor once the prayer was over. The politicians later explained that they declined to participate in the prayer because doing so would have been disingenuous to their Christian beliefs.
Senator Vick also said that he had announced his objections to the Senate the day before, and asked his Christian colleagues to join him in avoiding the invocation.
"[The United States was] built on the Judeo-Christian, not only religion, but work ethic, and I don't want to see that undermined," he said. "Hindus have a caste system...They worship cows."
He added, "I don't want to be seen as our country moving away from our Judeo-Christian traditions toward Hindu traditions by elevating [Zed] and this religion in that way."
The Senator's decision to avoid the Hindu invocation was also made in obedience to the Biblical Second Commandment, found in Exodus 20, in which God commands His people, "You shall have no other gods before me."
"Hindu is a false faith with false gods," Senator Nuxoll told the AP. "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."
She added that because the United States is a Christian nation, the Senate should have conducted a Christian prayer along with the Hindu invocation. Because there was no Christian prayer, Sen. Nuxoll said, she conducted a private prayer for herself outside of the chambers.
The Senator's decision didn't sit well with many, who accused the lawmakers of "bigotry" and "idiocy," and slammed them for handling the situation in an insensitive manner.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with offering prayers... and it is only fair to offer prayers from ALL religions. Those lawmakers who skipped the prayer are not doing themselves any favors," wrote a user named Marilyn on Yahoo News post.
Added another, "It just shows an utter lack of respect for others. Attending doesn't mean you have to pray. You can even recite your own prayer in your head if you like."
Others, however, thanked the three politicians for holding to their Christian values despite opposition.
"Praise God that there are still those in politics who refuse to bend to the demands of others," wrote a commenter. "Also--no one should be criticized for refusing to participate in something that directly violates their beliefs."
On his part, Zed said he was not offended by the Senator's refusal to attend his prayer, and encouraged members of all religions to continue to work together toward common political goals despite religious differences.
"We all have different viewpoints, and that is wonderful, that is what makes our country great," he told the AP.
"It is good to know about others these days. We are all looking for the truth. If we can join our resources together, we can reach there faster."