A lot of folks are under the impression that the First Amendment to our constitution requires a “wall of separation” between church and state, when, in reality, the law has never been quite that clear. Sure, the government is prohibited from establishing a state religion, but it is also prohibited from interfering with the free exercise of religion.
Here in Kentucky, we have an ironic confluence of events this week, tending to illustrate just how confusing all this has become.
First, is an official proclamation by Governor Steve Beshear, naming November as King James Bible Month in Kentucky. Observing that the 1611 Bible was the first English Bible printed in the United States, the governor praised its influence on “…countless families, individuals, and institutions in the United States.”
Second, is a nasty political battle being fought between Beshear—who is seeking reelection to a second four-year term as governor—and Republican Speaker of the House David Williams, who is trying to unseat him. It seems an Indian company opened a new manufacturing plant in Kentucky, and during dedication ceremonies attended by Gov. Beshear, some Hindu prayers were said.
Then, on Tuesday, Williams, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, criticized Beshear on Tuesday for participating in the ceremony, claiming he was engaging in idolatry, or the worship of idols. "He's sitting down there with his legs crossed participating in Hindu prayers, with a dot on his forehead, with incense burning around him," Williams told reporters during a campaign stop.
A state government news release last week said Beshear took part in a ground-blessing ceremony with community leaders and officials of Flex Films, which plans to build its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Elizabethtown, a $180 million investment which will create 250 new jobs for the community. The company makes polyester chips, specialty films, laminates and inks and adhesives to packaging and printing machines.
"I've been in many countries, in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and they'll say clap your hands and it summons the gods," said Williams, who is Methodist. "I did not do that because that is idolatry. And that's what he (Beshear) participates in when he does that."
This provoked a critical response from Hindus who are upset at the unnecessary dragging of a Hindu ceremony of bhumi-pujan (earth-worship) into Kentucky politics. In a statement released today, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said that it was upsetting to hear that reportedly ancient sacred Hindu ceremony termed as an act of idolatry and referred as “polytheistic situations”, revered Hindu deities were called “false gods”, and talking about Hindus it was said “…I hope their eyes are opened and they receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior…”
Calling upon Williams to apologize, Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that his religion has about a billion adherents and is rich with philosophical thought and should not be trivialized and taken lightly. He further suggested that Kentucky politicians should be welcoming this $180 million 250-job manufacturing plant (for which the bhumi-pujan was held) during this recession instead of being critical of way the owners and their associates worshipped.
As for Governor Beshear, here’s his proclamation:
To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come:
WHEREAS, A new translation of the Bible, authorized by King James I of England, was completed in 1611 and soon became known as the Bible for the masses, or the people’s bible; and
WHEREAS, The King James Version was the first English Bible printed in the United States; and
WHEREAS, The King James Version, also called the Authorized Version, has made a unique contribution in shaping the English language, including hundreds of common everyday expressions; and
WHEREAS, The language of the King James Bible has entered into the very culture of the United States through a myriad of poetry, speeches, sermons, music, songs, and literature; and
WHEREAS, Its language has had a lasting influence on countless families, individuals, and institutions in the United States; and
WHEREAS, The King James Version, the most printed and widely distributed work in history, is now in its 400th year of publication;
NOW, THEREFORE, I STEVEN L. BESHEAR, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, do hereby proclaim November 2011 as
KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE MONTH
Perhaps this can all be resolved by giving heed to the immortal words of that great humanitarian, Rodney King, who once said: “I just want to say, you know, can’t we all just get along?”
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