DC, USA (CHAKRA) – The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) sought clarification and an apology from Kentucky Senator David Williams (R-KY) in a telephone conversation yesterday, after his latest remarks about Governor Beshear’s “participation” in a Hindu ground-breaking ceremony. Williams, the GOP Nominee for Governor, initially made waves on Tuesday for criticizing Beshear and expressing his hope that Hindus accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. His comments were met with disappointment and shock from the Hindu American community and were strongly condemned by HAF.
Given a chance to clarify his previous statements, however, Williams continued to attack Gov. Beshear by calling his actions “in direct opposition to his own expressed Christian faith which recognizes but one God,” prompting the Foundation’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel, Suhag Shukla, Esq. to write to the Williams’ campaign. The State Senator responded by directly calling Shukla to discuss the issue in a conversation Shukla described as “civil.”
“While we strongly disagree with Senator Williams’ comments and opinions, we appreciate his efforts in reaching out to us,” said Shukla. “The conversation provided a good opportunity to educate the Senator about Hindu beliefs and traditions and we hope to continue the dialogue.”
Shukla stated that she also conveyed to Williams that his comments were deeply offensive to Hindus and that they had received emails and phone calls of solidarity from many other Christians who disagree with the Senator’s comments. Although Williams reiterated that as a Christian it was his hope that Hindus receive Christ as their savior, he added that he did not intend to offend Hindus and would never, in his official capacity, discriminate against anyone on the basis of their beliefs.
“We certainly acknowledge the Senator’s beliefs, but we hold completely irreconcilable worldviews — that of religious pluralism and religious exclusivism,” continued Shukla. “Hindus hold the view that there exist multiple, valid paths to relate to God, whereas the Senator believes that the only true path lies in his. While I may disagree, so long as such beliefs are not imposed upon or used to harass, intimidate, or curtail the rights and freedoms of others through mechanisms of the state, provocation, hate speech, fraud, duress, or coercion, he is free to hold them in our great democracy.”
Please see the letter below from HAF to Senator Williams.
PO Box 4167
Frankfort, KY 40604-4167Senator David Williams
Burkesville KY 42717
Dear Senator Williams,
I appreciate your call yesterday in response to HAF’s request for an apology and clarification of comments surrounding Governor Beshear’s attendance at a Hindu ground-blessing ceremony. If I may, I take this opportunity to summarize the main points of our conversation, which include: 1) the issue of participating in religious ceremonies as a state official in light of the principle of separation of church and state; 2) the issue of a Christian participating in a Hindu ceremony in light of your understanding of Christian teachings; and 3) there being no intent, on your part, to offend with your remarks, and that Kentucky Hindus should have confidence in your commitment to not discriminate on the basis of belief.
Separation of Church and State
As I explained, removing one’s shoes, sitting cross-legged, or even having a red dot on one’s forehead, does not necessarily indicate “participation” in a ceremony according to Hindu practice. All of those things can certainly be indicative of “participation,” but are usually accompanied with other actions, including a declaration of intent to participate (sankalpa). Otherwise, all of these actions can simply reflect observance of respectful protocol, not only for attending Hindu ceremonies, but entering a Hindu temple or Hindu home. The conclusion you have made of “participation” is thus flawed.
The Hindu American Foundation has advocated for the separation of church and state since its inception. Accordingly, it is my sincere hope that your understanding of and commitment to this constitutional principle would also lead you through a similar exercise of concern if a Christian government office-bearer “participated” in Christian prayer in his or her official capacity.
In response, I mentioned the countless Christians who felt compelled to reach out to the Foundation to apologize for your remarks, demonstrating that your sentiments are clearly not reflective of all Christians — some went as far as to suggest that your remarks are a perversion of what Jesus stood for. When I mentioned the many Christians whom I know of, who, similar to Hindus, are religious pluralists, you said you believe those Christians do not believe in or understand the words of the Bible. I asked which Bible — King James, Greek Orthodox, Gnostic — to which you did not respond. You also asked whether I would, as a Hindu participate in communion at a church.
As I mentioned, Hinduism is a pluralistic tradition which acknowledges the existence of multiple ways (also in the form of traditions or religions) of relating, communing, or being with God and that God, Truth, or the Divine can manifest in different forms. As such, if my taking communion was not offensive to the members or teachings of the particular church and did not require me to convert or accept any one savior, as a Hindu, I would not have any issues respectfully “participating.”
Suhag A. Shukla, Esq.