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American Falls City Council cancels Hindu invocation after community feedback

Rajan Zed | Courtesy Rajan Zed
AMERICAN FALLS — The American Falls City Council has canceled an upcoming invocation due to the community response it received.
Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, was scheduled to offer a Hindu prayer at the May 15 City Council meeting. However, after a discussion by the council at its March 20 meeting, the city has canceled Zed’s invocation.
“So, unfortunately, I got a hold of Mr. Zed and canceled. It’s just one of those difficult parts of leadership and representing the constituents of the city and trying to do right by them,” Mayor Rebekah Sorensen said.
Putting Zed on the agenda came about after he contacted Sorensen at the beginning of March about offering prayer at one of the council meetings. Sorensen looked into Zed and saw he went to different communities around the country to offer prayers.
“I was really intrigued and interested in the bringing together of cultures and religions and peoples, and I really liked that idea when he had reached out, and immediately I confirmed,” Sorensen said. They also planned to have a meeting together when Zed came to American Falls.
While she isn’t aware of any Hindus in American Falls, she said that the community is religiously diverse with Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-Day Saints, among others.
“We have a lot of church buildings here, a lot of different religions, a lot of different congregations, and it’s a neat thing,” Sorensen said.
Zed had planned on offering a prayer by reciting lines of Hindu scripture. He also would’ve urged the City Council and others present to keep the welfare of others always in mind.
In English, the lines would have been, “Lead us from the unreal to the real, lead us from darkness to light, and lead us from death to immortality.”
But as the word about the upcoming invocation got out, Sorensen started to receive feedback from the community. While some of it was positive, others questioned the prayer.
Some people emailed Sorensen with their concerns, while others approached her in person to talk about it.
“I understand that it’s going to be for one meeting. But why are we doing this?” read one email to Sorensen.
Another asked, “Why is the City Council doing this when they don’t do any Christian prayers?”
Sorensen said people also raised concerns about the separation of church and state. Other people saw it as an opportunity to ask if they could come and offer prayer.
One person asked in an email, “If the Hindu prayer can be prayed, can my church come and pray?”
Although Sorensen said she would’ve responded yes to this question, prayer hasn’t been offered before a council meeting for at least 30 years.
“My gut reaction was, ‘Sure, why not?’ But that didn’t align with our legal advice and the council’s decision to just proceed with the status quo,” Sorensen said.
Zed, who has offered prayers at the Idaho State Senate and Boise City Council, expressed disappointment with the American Falls City Council’s decision.
“I believe that invocations like this strengthen society, display respect for religious liberty and pluralism and offer opportunities for creating harmonious communities,” Zed said.
The Idaho Senate prayer he gave in 2015 also prompted a protest from three lawmakers, though Zed said as far as he could remember, he hasn’t had a reaction like this before from a community.
Although Zed wouldn’t be offering a prayer for the council, Sorensen said that she still hopes that he would be willing to meet with her. Zed said that he might make an appointment with the mayor.
“I like the City Council mission statement, which includes, ‘Provide a friendly, diverse and positive atmosphere,’” Zed said.
The post American Falls City Council cancels Hindu invocation after community feedback appeared first on East Idaho News.

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