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Location: Home arrow Library of Articles arrow In the Media arrow Sikh offers opening prayer in Senate

Sikh offers opening prayer in Senate   E-mail 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
BY MARY WARNER
Of The Patriot-News

"Ek onkar satnam. There is but one God," began the prayer that opened the Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday, as Nirmal Singh of Fairview Twp. became the first Sikh to perform that traditional duty.

"We pray to the one God who created this universe with all its colorful diversity, ranng, as we call it," said Singh, using the Punjabi word.

The Senate's tradition of opening with prayer drew a complaint from a watchdog group last year that the prayers often contain language only a Christian would use -- for example, "in Jesus' name."

Prayers in civic settings are constitutional only when they're nonsectarian, said Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Senate officials said they comply with the law by ensuring prayers come from a variety of faiths, not by monitoring prayers.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that developed in India during the 15th century. Singh's prayer included phrases from Sikh scripture.

"Sikh teachings are very universal, and I have tried to structure this prayer around its universality," he said in an e-mail. "My concern obviously was to try and offer an invocation that is universal in spirit and intent but can be traced back to its Sikh linkage."

Drew Crompton, counsel to Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said he's heard no more from Americans United since an exchange of letters late last year, but a spokesman for the group said the Senate's prayer policy still has a problem.

"We're glad that a handful of religious minorities" have been invited to the Senate, said spokesman Joe Conn, but "many of the prayers still have a sectarian slant."

In recent months, prayers have been given by Jews, a Unitarian, and a Buddhist.

Atheists have asked for an invitation. "I couldn't say fervently no," Crompton said. "But I don't know how atheists pray."

Steve Neubauer of Mount Wolf, president of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, said he wrote an invocation that opened a York County Commissioners meeting three years ago.

Singh is a retired Indian Army colonel and business executive who has lived in the U.S. since 1987. He belongs to the Blue Mountain Gurdwara in Bethel Twp., Berks County.

MARY WARNER:
mwarner@patriot-news.com
Source: Patriot News 



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