Nevada Hindu's request to read opening prayer in Britain denied

Reno, USA - British government officials said they see no chance that a Hindu chaplain from Nevada will be allowed to read the opening prayer in the House of Commons.

In denying the request by Rajan Zed of Reno - who in July became the first Hindu to offer the U.S. Senate prayer - officials noted the prayers by custom are always led by a Church of England priest.

"That's been the case since 1660, because you probably understand it's the established church of the UK," said Angus Sinclair, who works in the office of the speaker of the House of Commons. "I think it's probably one of those things that has been happening for so long that it is understood."

Any change to the prayers could only occur after parliamentary debate and consultation with Queen Elizabeth II, Sinclair added.

Zed said he sought to represent minority religions and denominations in Britain, and was saddened to learn about the policy in a letter from officials there.

"It would be better if they had more diverse prayers because the population and demographics are changing over there," Zed said. "As long as the policy is in place, there seems to be no question of prayers by other traditions."

The elected House of Commons and the largely appointed House of Lords are the two houses of Parliament.

The government and the church are entangled in various ways. The monarch is the supreme governor of the church. Bishops are effectively appointed by the government.

Prayers are conducted in private. The only non-members of the Commons who attend are the chaplain and the sergeant-at-arms.

Zed, who was born in India, said he thinks the policy will eventually change to reflect Britain's diversity. He cited its growing numbers of Hindus and members of various Christian denominations.

"I feel that there is a sense of unity in diversity and we should celebrate it," he said. "Existence of different faiths was positively willed by God, as a sign of God's bountifulness and generosity."

Zed made history by offering the Senate's morning prayer from ancient Sanskrit scriptures, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors' gallery. They were arrested and charged with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor.

The Mississippi-based American Family Association had urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be "seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god."

Also in 2007, Zed became the first Hindu to recite prayers in the California State Senate and both houses of the Nevada Legislature. He also is scheduled to read the first Hindu prayers in the state senates of Colorado and New Mexico in late January.

Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, behind Christianity and Islam.