October 2007 Church & State | People & Events

Three fundamentalist Christians who disrupted a prayer by a Hindu religious leader in the U.S. Senate July 12 have been barred from the U.S. Capitol for one year.

At a hearing Sept. 11 before Washington, D.C., Superior Court Judge Robert Rigsby, the protestors were told charges against them will be dropped if they stay away from the Capitol and its grounds for 12 months.

The trio – Ante Pavkovic, his wife Katherine Pavkovic and their daughter Christan Renee Sugar – disrupted a prayer by Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Nevada who had been invited to open the day’s proceedings.

As Zed was preparing to deliver his invocation, three protestors started  shouting from the visitors’ gallery.

“Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight,” the protestors screamed. They were removed by Capitol Police and charged with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor.

The three had been in the nation’s capital to lobby against a hate-crimes bill that would extend certain protections to gay people. (The Pavkovics and their daughter are all residents of North Carolina.) They called themselves “Christian patriots,” and their actions were hailed by some Religious Right activists.

Zed quickly recovered his composure and finished the invocation. He later told Church & State that he received many positive messages after the prayer and that some people were apologetic about the interruption.

The Rev. Flip Benham, head of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Save America, announced that the trio would be defended in court by Roy Moore, Alabama’s infamous “Ten Commandments judge.”

In fact, a Moore associate, Ben DuPre, represented the three on behalf of Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law. Although Benham told supporters in an e-mail message that Moore “has volunteered to come along side and represent these three Christians in court,” Moore did not appear during the proceedings.

Religious Right groups blasted Senate leaders for inviting Zed.

“No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the pledge, our national motto and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith.”

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is also still harping on the prayer and using the incident to promote its “Christian nation” views. Two months after Zed’s appearance, the Baptist Press ran a story headlined “Hinduism influence on the rise.” It quoted N.S.R.K. Ravi, director of the SBC’s North American Mission Board’s Evangelism Response Center.

“The god Rajan Zed represented is a different god,” Ravi, a former Hindu, told the Baptist Press. “The prayers he offered are not to the God of the Bible. The god Rajan Zed represented is powerless. He cannot forgive sin, therefore he leaves the sinner to the fate of karma and reincarnation and endless human suffering.”

Ravi noted that before his prayer, Zed sprinkled some water from the Ganges River, which Hindus consider sacred.

“The holy water he sprinkled on the Senate floor was from the land of India, which means the god is limited to a specific region of the universe,” Ravi added. “He is not the God of the universe. What is next? Prayers to Satan? Pagans? Dead spirits? Prayers to atheists?”