Religious Diversity

“The Bible and Torah, for years the standard religious texts used to swear in members of Congress, have been joined by the Constitution, the Koran—and, on Jan. 3, for the first time ever, the Hindu Bhagavad Gita.” Stephen Dinan and Tom Howell Jr.

“The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said the religious shift has been dramatic over the past five decades, with Protestants dropping from nearly 400 in the House and Senate combined in the 1961-1962 Congress to about 300 now—still a majority, but far less dominant.” Ibid.

Religious Diversity in Congress

Stephen Dinan & Tom Howell, Jr., The Washington Times, January 7, 2013, p. 4

The Bible and Torah, for years the standard religious texts used to swear in members of Con­gress, have been joined by the Constitution, the Koran — and, on Jan. 3, images-2for the first time ever, the Hindu Bhagavad Gita.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a newly elected congresswoman from Hawaii, and the first Hindu to serve, brought her own book with her as she took part in a cer­emonial swearing-in with House Speaker John A. Boehner.

The Democrat, who joined Rep. Tammy Duckworth as the first female combat veteran to be in Congress, used the Gita that she had with her while serving in Iraq.

“I chose to take the oath of office’ with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country,” she said.

Her election underscores the growing religious diversity in Congress, where the first Muslim was sworn in six years ago on, a Koran, and the first Buddhist senator took office.

As religions have expanded, so have the options for swearing-in ceremonies.

Both House and Senate law­makers are officially sworn in on their chamber floors, and then have ceremonial swearings-in for keepsake photos afterward. Members are not required to hold any text at all, merely to raise their right arms and swear — but many do hold something, particularly during the ceremonial oath. The Library of Congress even provides books to House members who don’t bring their own, and lawmakers can pick them off a table when they enter the ornate room for a one-on-one ceremonial oath with Mr. Boehner.

They had nine options: Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Qrthodox Bibles, the Torah, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Hindu Vedas, an ornate box hold­ing Buddhist Sutras, and copies of the U.S. Constitution.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said the religious shift has been dramatic over the past five-decades, with Protestants dropping from nearly 400 in the House and Senate combined in the 1961-1962 Con­gress to about 300 – now still a majority, but far less dominant. “Catholics have risen from 100 to more than160, Mormons have more than doubled from to 15, and there are now three Bud­dhists, two Muslims, one Hindu and one unaffiliated.

The “unaffiliated” lawmaker is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an Ari­zona Democrat who is claimed by atheists as one of their own, but whose office said she doesn’t identify that way.

She didn’t hold any text for the official swearing-in on the House floor, and-did not take part in a ceremonial oath with Mr. Boehner.

“I already got sworn in — and it was glorious,” she told The Washington Times.

Neither the House historian nor the chaplain’s office keeps track of which texts are used for ceremonies, but an informal survey showed that Bibles still dominate. A number of lawmak­ers, though, opted for the Consti­tution or to forgo any text and instead shook hands with Mr. Boehner.

In 2007, when he became the first Muslim, Rep. Keith Ellison used the Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson, which the Li­brary of Congress brought over for him.

Some, though, brought their own books that, have been in their families for years.

Rep. Steve Dairies, Montana Republican, carried a small, pocket-sized Bible that belonged to his grandfather.

Newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, used a Bible that his father used as a pastor in Dallas, He said before the cer­emony he read Psalms Chapter 40 — the same passage he read before every campaign debate and each election night.

“It was comforting encouragement,” Mr. Cruz said.

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