Why We Keep Rocking the Boat.
In the back and forth emails between
co-plaintiffs following the favorable ruling, celebratory comments such as
"historic moment," "what a great day," and "you've done us proud" came not from members of the Foundation or the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee, although we too were elated, but those Christian
leaders who courageously chose to stand against majoritarianism and many of
their kin, in favor of our Founding Father's mandate for the separation of
church and state. This latest interfaith
endeavor in legal advocacy and the jubilation felt by us all, regardless of
our religious affiliations, got me thinking about the Foundation's
earliest efforts in the arena of religious liberty and the knee-jerk
criticism of being "anti-Christian" we first faced by some in the community.
Rewind three years. HAF's first foray into religious liberty advocacy was our seminal filing of an amicus curiae (friend of court) brief in Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Van Orden questioned the legality of a public display of the Ten Commandments on state capitol grounds. You could almost hear the fabric of our community tear between 1st and 2nd generation Hindu Americans at the thought of asking the Supreme Court to order removal of the display: the 2nd, those raised in the U.S., applauding our efforts with words of support and the 1st admonishing us for "rocking the boat," accusing us of being"anti-Christian" and advising that we should sit quiet because we were "guests in this country."
As we said then
and we continue to say today, we are not opposing any religion. In fact, we have the utmost respect for
Judaism, Christianity and all religions, for that matter, as is reflected in the interfaith work of the Foundation. However, HAF's
stance in South Carolina and other church/state cases shares the views of our Founding Fathers and countless
religious and irreligious Americans, including our Christian and Jewish
co-plaintiffs, who believe that our duty as Americans is to insist on a separation
of church and state as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, participating
in the national dialogue on religious liberty is a clear signal of our own
pride, confidence and sense of ownership in this country and in the U.S. Constitution. Hindu Americans came to this country to
realize the American dream, and have done so thanks to the guarantees of
freedom and those Americans who have been willing to stand up for them when threatened.
A democracy is built upon the assumption of majority rule. But there are inherent freedoms and rights of equality built in to our laws to curb the potential of majoritarian tyranny and to ensure that the minority still has its voice heard. But those freedoms have, throughout our nation's history, been threatened or taken away and it took boat rocking to get them back. So rock the boat…I know we will.