Both the houses of the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament, House of Commons and House of Lords, have turned down requests to have Hindu opening-prayer in one of their respective sessions.
According to the Parliament website: Sittings in both Houses begin with prayers. These follow the Christian faith. In the House of Commons, the Speaker’s Chaplain usually reads the prayers. In the House of Lords, a senior Bishop (Lord Spiritual) who sits in the Lords usually reads the prayers. The practice of prayers is believed to have started in about 1558. The present form of prayers probably dates from the reign of Charles II.
Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who wrote to Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Lords Speaker John McFall requesting that he be scheduled to read Hindu opening-prayer in each of the House and received the denials; feels that it is simply a case of blatant unfairness, exclusionary attitude, discrimination; and does not speak well of a nation which claims to be home of modern parliamentary democracy with significant political-cultural influence worldwide.
Adherents of minority religions and non-believers, who had made a lot of contributions to the UK and continued to do so and paid their share of the taxes, thus felt left out by this monopoly on prayer. Not allowing prayers of minority religions in the Parliament seemed like efforts at belittling these faiths under government patronage; Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out in a statement today.
Democratic governments should not be in the business of promoting one religion and excluding others and non-believers and thus infringing upon the human rights of minority religions and non-believers; Rajan Zed, who has opened both the United States Senate and US House of Representatives in Washington DC with Hindu prayers, emphasized.
Zed’s query of Hindu prayer supplied by him to be read in the houses by the appointed readers also received a negative response.
Rajan Zed further said that Standing Orders handling the prayer in the Commons and Lords needed to be urgently changed as we were well into 21st century and the UK was much more religiously diverse now as compared to 1558.
Zed suggested that it was time for the UK Parliament to move to multi-faith opening prayers. Since UK Parliament represented every Briton irrespective of religion/denomination/non-belief, it would be quite befitting in this increasingly diverse nation to do a rotation of prayers representing major religions and pagan spirituality and including slots for thoughts of non-believers.
Rajan Zed was of the view that existence of different religions was an evident symbol of God’s generosity and munificence. The UK Parliament should quest for a unity that hailed diversity.
According to Parliament website, prayers for the House of Lords include: Psalms 1, 15, 24, 34 (vv. 1–8), 46, 66 (vv. 1–14, 18), 67, 93, 95 (vv. 1–7), 100, 111, 112 (vv. 1–6), 119 (vv. 33–40), 121, 145 (vv. 1–6 and 21); Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord’s Prayer; Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour; Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; fellowship of the Holy Ghost; etc.
Commons Chaplain, who belongs to the Church of England, is employed jointly between the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey. In Lords, prayers are usually read by one of the senior Bishops of the Church of England. In the absence of a bishop, a member of the Lords who is an ordained minister of the Church of England may read prayers.
The UK Parliament in London claims to “work on behalf of UK citizens to check and challenge the work of Government, make and shape effective laws, and debate/make decisions on the big issues of the day”. The Commons has 650 members, while the Lords has about 800 members.
Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about 1.2 billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal.