Hindu Americans Outraged after Alabama Governor’s Speech

via www.hafsite.org/Hindu_Americans_Outraged_Alabama_Governors_Speech published on January 20, 2011

Washington D.C. (January 19, 2011) – The newly sworn-in Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama ignited a storm of controversy Monday when he addressed a predominantly African American church declaring that only those who accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are his “sisters or brothers.”  He went on to add, “…so anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister…” The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) joined many Christian, Jewish, Muslim and atheist leaders in denouncing Gov. Bentley’s words, calling his views “intolerant, repulsive and wholly unacceptable.”
“Governor Bentley is the highest public official elected in the State of Alabama, and such inflammatory rhetoric should never be tolerated from someone of his stature,” said Nikhil Joshi, Esq., co-founder and Board member of HAF. “It would seem obvious that all public officials repudiate even an appearance of partiality, look equally upon all constituents and, categorically, never apply a religious litmus test on their citizens.  Sadly, Gov. Bentley seems to fail in making these distinctions.”
Governor Bentley delivered his controversial message on Monday in a speech meant to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the same church in Birmingham, Alabama from where  Dr. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  Padma Kuppa, Executive Council member of HAF, elicited Dr. King’s admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings of non-violence and civil disobedience, noting “there is an incredibly wide chasm between Dr. King who embraced Gandhi, a Hindu, as an apostle for peace, knowing that the universality of that message transcends religion or race, and Gov. Bentley, who prefers to live in an exclusionary and divisive world of people he sees as Christians or heathens.”
The newly elected governor has not responded to the broad condemnation to his statements, and his communications director sought to clarify that Bentley is the governor of all people of Alabama, without directly addressing the statement.
“While many offer their own interpretations of what our founding fathers intended with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, we feel confident in declaring that they did not envision a governor egregiously dividing his own diverse state into Christians and non-Christians,” said Joshi. “Governor Bentley strikes a chord of religious intolerance that unfortunately finds echoes all too frequently in our country today.”
HAF leaders saw more irony in the governor’s statement, as Hindu Americans just commemorated the birthday of Swami Vivekananda, the Indian spiritual luminary credited as being the first to introduce America to Hindu beliefs and practices. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of World Religions summit in Chicago where he began his famous speech with the memorable phrase,  “Sisters and brothers of America.”
“The concept of pluralism and tolerance pervaded Swami Vivekananda’s address on September 11, 1893 as he was the first Hindu to speak to a public audience in the United States,” Kuppa continued.  “While the United States remains a beacon of pluralism in the world, we must all work to ensure that Governor Bentley’s view of his state’s people remains firmly outside the mainstream perspective of the citizens of our nation.”

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