Last week, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu-American to enter the U.S. House of Representatives after she soundly defeated Kawika Crowley of the Republican Party in Hawaii's second Congressional district.
The 31-year-old will be making history yet again when she takes her oath of office. According to The Hill, Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will be taking her oath over the Hindu holy scripture Bhagavad Gita, instead of the Bible.
Gabbard, whose first name refers to a tree sacred to Hindus, follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita, a centuries-old Dharmic holy book that is part of the ancient epic Mahabharata, is her primary scripture.
"The Bhagavad Gita is often considered a guide as to how to make decisions in difficult situations, when the decision is often not clear cut," Mihir Meghani, a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, told Religion News Service last week. "Hinduism's innate pluralism recognizes that there are various ways to look at things, and its focus on dharma, or duty, guides those holding positions of power or authority."
Meghani added that Gabbard, with her commitment to her faith, will likely be a "good role model for second-generation Hindus."
"I am looking forward to see her taking oath under the Bhagavad Gita in January," he said.
In a statement released after her victory, Gabbard, who was raised by a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, said that she hopes her new position in Congress will inspire other Hindu-Americans to be proud of their faith.
"On my last trip to the mainland, I met a man who told me that his teenage daughter felt embarrassed about her faith, but after meeting me, she's no longer feeling that way," Gabbard said, according to New York Daily News. "He was so happy that my being elected to Congress would give hope to hundreds and thousands of young Hindus in America, that they can be open about their faith and even run for office, without fear of being discriminated against or attacked because of their religion."
According to estimates, the Hindu population in the U.S. is between 600,000 and 2.3 million.
As Religion News Service noted in an earlier report, however, not everyone may be too happy with having a Hindu in Congress:
When self-proclaimed "Hindu statesman" Rajan Zed was asked to open the Senate with a prayer in 2007, the American Family Association called the prayer "gross idolatry" and urged members to protest; three protesters from the fundamentalist group Operation Save America interrupted the prayer with shouts from the gallery.
Then-Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said the prayer and Congress' first Muslim member "are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers." Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum told supporters this summer that equality was a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept that "doesn't come from the East and Eastern religions." Crowley, in an interview with CNN.com, said Gabbard's faith was incompatible with the Constitution.
In response to the naysayers, Gabbard has been unambiguous in her disagreement.
"It is stunning that some people in Congress would so arrogantly thumb their nose at the Bill of Rights," Gabbard told the Religion News Service. "When I volunteered to put my life on the line in defense of our country, no one asked me what my religion was."
Gabbard's appointment wasn't the only historic first for religion in American politics in this year's election. Also in Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, a democrat, beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) last week to become the first Buddhist in the Senate.
It is as yet unclear as to how Hirono will be taking her oath.
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