Saturday, April 02, 2005

Yahweh vs. Ganesha in the American Supreme Court

Kudos to Salon for covering a topic I've not seen mentioned elsewhere. I'm reminded by this odd silence how feeble American journalism has become, but Salon shows there are a few of the old strain left here and there.

The Supreme Court is having to rule on the practice of displaying the Ten Commandments in prominent public locations, including courtrooms. These are displayed without a competing array of, for example, the moral tenets of the Wicca or Scientology or Eckanckar. More significantly, displays also omit the conflicting tenets of the Ojibiwe, of Hinduism, of Buddhism ... Or, for that matter, Mormonism.

So this case is really not so much about the "seperation of church and state" as whether America has one state religion (and does it include the book. I thought it interesting that when Bush assembled religious figures post 9/11 he didn't include any representatives of native americans or any other non-biblical faiths. Now the story unfolds ... (emphases mine) | In gods we trust
Among the groups that filed a "friend of the court" brief against the Ten Commandments monument was the Hindu American Foundation, along with Buddhists and Jains.

How significant is this ranging of American non-Christians against the Decalogue? The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, discovered an America that is changing rapidly with regard to religion. In the 11 years since the first such poll (done in 1990), the number of Americans who considered themselves to have no religion increased from 8 percent to 14 percent. In real terms, these open unbelievers increased from 14 million to nearly 30 million, as extrapolated from the polls. In addition, the proportion of Americans who identified with a specific religion fell from 90 percent to 81 percent...

...The elephant-headed god Ganesha is a favorite of Hindu worshippers, especially in western India. Ganesha has come to America, too. If you visit the Web page of the Bharatiya Temple in Troy, Mich., you will find a hyperlink to the left marked "Images." In Old Testament language, it might as well say "graven images." A statuette of Ganesha is displayed there. Asian and other non-Christian religions (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and so forth) still do not make up more than about 4 percent of the American population, but their adherents grew from about 5 million to over 7 million between 1990 and 2001 in the SUNY poll (which probably undercounts the smaller groups). As the Asian population grows in the United States, the number of Buddhists and Muslims will increase significantly. The United States adds a million immigrants a year, many of them from Asia...

...The friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Hindus and others notes, "To members of non-Judeo-Christian religions, the Ten Commandments do not merely recite non-controversial ethical maxims; several Commandments (e.g., the first, second and third) address the forms and objects of religious worship." Underlining that there are nearly a million Hindus in the United States, and some 700 Hindu temples, the brief says, "Nor can Hindus accept the First Commandment's prohibition against 'graven images.' The use of murtis (sacred representations of God in any of God's various forms) is central to the practice of the religion for virtually all Hindus." The government-sponsored posting of the Ten Commandments implies a U.S. government preference for a theology that Hindus cannot accept. As for the country's 3 million Buddhists, the brief is even more blunt: "The conception of God, or the notion of worshipping creator gods, is considered an obstacle to the enlightenment sought by Buddhists."
America has not always separated church and state, indeed I think that separation has waxed and waned over the past 4 hundred years in both British-American and America. At times the state combusted certain non-believers, at other times we added pseudo-occult non-Christian symbols to our currency.

This should be an interesting court case.

Update 7/27/07: I researched what happened to this story today. It wasn't easy to find out how it went! None of the sites that had the original story linked to the conclusion. As best I can tell, the Christians fundamentalists won this battle, though it seems the key Supreme (Breyer) decided the key factor was a relatively limited religious component to the monument.

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