Hindus believe in the freedom of thought, expression, and worship. It is the only tradition that accepts the right of every human being to pursue his/her own spiritual path. Swami Vivekananda, the inspiration behind the modern Hindu renaissance movement and one of the greatest saints of India , argued “Let there be a hundred thousand paths to God.” Hindus have always believed in the validity of every path, crooked or straight. Bhagwan Shri Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, had clearly stated this truth more than five thousand years ago in the battlefield of Kurukshetra in India . Hence all Hindus follow the ancient call of the sages of India for acceptance of every path. Acceptance of multiple paths does not equate to equality of religions. Every path is unique in its own way. Mutual acceptance is a prerequisite for mutual cooperation and harmony.
Freedom is our birthright and is necessary for our own spiritual evolution. The vast amount of literature that clarifies the political thought of the founding fathers of America clearly illustrates their longing for a free society. The spirit of freedom, as conceived by the sages of ancient India , resonated in the intellectual life of American society from its early days. It is this atmosphere of freedom that makes the life of Hindus in America more fulfilling and enriching. Therefore, Hindu Americans will be at the forefront of the fight to protect and preserve our individual liberties as guaranteed by the constitution. We urge elected officials and governmental authorities to take note of Hindu sensibilities in the following areas:
Airport security procedures
Hindu religious leaders and ordinary Hindus wear sacred materials on their person as part of their religious practices, and beliefs. During security checks, the security officers at airports have created serious problems for devout Hindus. Hindus have been asked to remove the turbans on heads and their sacred threads, and sacred ornaments have been touched. We request all airport security personnel to be familiar with Hindu sensibilities on this very important matter by introducing relevant information in their training.
Restrictions on Cremation and Last Rights
It is a custom among almost all Hindus to spread the ashes of departed souls after cremation in large flowing bodies of water such as the ocean or the rivers. Hindus should also be allowed to build cremation facilities that cater to the special needs of Hindus. We urge Congress to pass legislation for accommodating these basic needs of Hindu families in America . The U.S. must follow in the footsteps of Great Britain in making such religious practices legal and acknowledging the religious diversity of America .
State Control of Hindu Temples
We reject any attempt by the state (whether local, state or federal) to control the places of worship of Hindus. The recent attempts by the executive and judiciary branches of the New York State Government to control the Hindu Temple of New York are a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the separation of church and state. In order to prevent such incidents in the future, we urge Congress to pass legislation that will clearly delineate the boundaries that separate Church and State. We ask the entire political establishment strongly to denounce the unconstitutional intrusions of the state in matters concerning religious worship.
Equal Availability and Equal Opportunity
We urge all in the political establishment to accept our reasonable demands for equal availability and equal opportunity. Although Hindus are happy to see the celebration of Diwali being organized by the White House, most Hindus feel that the absence of the President in such events in the past is a chilling testimony to unfair treatment. We further demand that there must be equal treatment of all religious traditions when the government interacts or engages with people of faith. It is time for America to treat Hindus and Buddhists at par with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others on matters concerning faith.
Acknowledgment and Recognition of our existence in America
America ‘s political establishment has historically failed to even acknowledge the presence of Hindus in this great country. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, political leaders from both parties failed to mention the presence of Hindus when proclaiming our nation’s religious diversity and collective resolve. Some leaders in America even confuse Hindi (the language spoken by more than 400 million people in countries all around the world) with Hindu, the faith of a billion people worldwide. USHA urges all to acknowledge our presence, our unique way of living, and our contributions.
Separation of Church and State
USHA is a strong advocate of the separation of Church and State. The world has witnessed innumerable conflicts and human suffering whenever the demarcation between faith and politics where ambiguous. Hence, we whole-heartedly support separation of church and state as enshrined in the Constitution.
Display of Religious Material
Displays become a symbol of exclusivity, fear, and discrimination when the materials displayed in public places belong to only one religion. We strongly condemn the display of the Ten Commandments for it contains a reference to “false gods.” We believe that if any such displays are permitted by law, they should be non-controversial and inclusive to respect the religious diversity of our society.
Laws against Harassment of Hindus and other Religious Minorities by Christian Evangelists
Hindus and people of many other faiths have had to suffer the harassment of Christian evangelists for more than a century. Although we respect the right of any human being to adopt any faith of his or her own choice, targeting people of other faiths for the purpose of converting them to Christianity is the worst form of harassment and violence.
Hindus living in neighborhoods across America are witnessing a concerted effort by evangelists to confront Hindus in their subdivisions, offices, college campuses, and other public places in an openly intimidating way. During such scenarios, the evangelists proclaim to Hindus that they are going to go to “hell” because they have not accepted Jesus Christ as the “Savior.” Such public utterances should be treated as a form of hate crime for it encourages innocent followers of these evangelists to perpetrate various types of hate crimes against Hindus and their places of worship. We urge Congress to pass legislation to stop the constant harassment by Christian evangelists and make it a federal crime.
Religious Symbols and Dress Codes at Work
Just as people of various faiths are allowed to display their religious symbols, Hindus should be given the right to display religious symbols in the workplace and wear dress that suits their religious beliefs. Hence, we strongly endorse the Freedom of Religion at Workplace Act. We urge congress to monitor violations of law and provide adequate funds for enforcement of this law.