Elected officials often participate in religious prayer and ceremony to signal their respect for other religions, including Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But yesterday, Kentucky state senator and GOP gubernatorial nominee David Williams accused incumbent Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s (D) of “idolatry,” and attacked him for sitting with a “dot on his forehead” in a “polytheistic ceremony” after Beshear showed his respect for the Hindu faith by participating in a ground blessing ceremony last week. According to Williams:
If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers … To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.
Hindu American Foundation’s Suhag Shukla called Williams’ comment “an affront” to Americans “as he conjures up the lowest sentiments of exclusion and bigotry.” And Shukla is right. One of the most basic principles underlying our Constitution is that all faiths are welcome in the United States. Beshear’s participation in this Hindu ceremony was an important reminder of this basic truth.
Indeed, chief executives have long signaled their respect for other religions by observing their holidays and customs. Here are just five examples of Democratic and Republican governors and presidents showing their respect for Jews, Muslims and Hindus: