UK Equality & Human Rights Commission refuses to help Hindus on Parliament opening-prayer issue

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) seems to think that the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament’s denial of Hindu opening-prayer request is outside its current areas of work.

Responding to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who had raised this issue, “Correspondence Team” of EHRC wrote: “we cannot help with the issue you have raised as it falls outside the areas of work we are currently focusing on”.

Despite boasting of “Promoting and upholding equality and human rights ideals and laws” and self-proclaiming “Our job is to help make Britain fairer”, EHRC seems to be shying away from its responsibilities by not pressing forward with this issue of blatant unfairness and inequality at the Parliament; Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, emphasizes.

Rajan Zed urged EHRC and its Chair Kishwer Falkner and CEO Marcial Boo to enlighten themselves about the real role of EHRC, the taxpayer-funded public body sponsored by the Cabinet Office, whose stated Vision included “A society built on the foundations of equality and human rights”, whose duties included eliminating discrimination based on “religion or belief”, and which proclaimed that “Parliament gave us the mandate to challenge discrimination, and to protect and promote human rights”.

Both the houses of the UK Parliament, House of Commons and House of Lords, have turned down requests to have Hindu opening-prayer in one of their respective sessions.

According to the Parliament website: Sittings in both Houses begin with prayers. These follow the Christian faith. In the House of Commons, the Speaker’s Chaplain usually reads the prayers. In the House of Lords, a senior Bishop (Lord Spiritual) who sits in the Lords usually reads the prayers. The practice of prayers is believed to have started in about 1558. The present form of prayers probably dates from the reign of Charles II.

Zed, who wrote to Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Lords Speaker John McFall, requesting that he be scheduled to read Hindu opening-prayer in each of the House and received the denials; feels that it is simply a case of blatant unfairness, exclusionary attitude, discrimination; and does not speak well of a nation which claims to be home of modern parliamentary democracy with significant political-cultural influence worldwide.

Adherents of minority religions and non-believers, who had made a lot of contributions to the UK and continued to do so and paid their share of the taxes, thus felt left out by this monopoly on prayer. Not allowing prayers of minority religions in the Parliament seemed like efforts at belittling these faiths under government patronage; Rajan Zed pointed out in a statement.

Democratic governments should not be in the business of promoting one religion and excluding others and non-believers and thus infringing upon the human rights of minority religions and non-believers; Zed, who has opened both the United States Senate and US House of Representatives in Washington DC with Hindu prayers, indicated.

Rajan Zed’s query of Hindu prayer supplied by him to be read in the houses by the appointed readers also received a negative response.

Zed further said that Standing Orders handling the prayer in the Commons and Lords needed to be urgently changed as we were well into 21st century and the UK was much more religiously diverse now as compared to 1558.

Rajan Zed suggested that it was time for the UK Parliament to move to multi-faith opening prayers. Since UK Parliament represented every Briton irrespective of religion/denomination/non-belief, it would be quite befitting in this increasingly diverse nation to do a rotation of prayers representing major religions and pagan spirituality and including slots for thoughts of non-believers.

Zed was of the view that the existence of different religions was an evident symbol of God’s generosity and munificence. The UK Parliament should quest for a unity that hailed diversity.

According to Parliament website, prayers for the House of Lords include: Psalms 1, 15, 24, 34 (vv. 1–8), 46, 66 (vv. 1–14, 18), 67, 93, 95 (vv. 1–7), 100, 111, 112 (vv. 1–6), 119 (vv. 33–40), 121, 145 (vv. 1–6 and 21); Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord’s Prayer;  Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour; Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; fellowship of the Holy Ghost; etc.

Commons Chaplain, who belongs to the Church of England, is employed jointly between the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey. In Lords, prayers are usually read by one of the senior Bishops of the Church of England. In the absence of a bishop, a member of the Lords who is an ordained minister of the Church of England may read prayers.

According to GOV.UK website: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) monitors human rights, protecting equality across 9 grounds – age, disability, sex, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.”

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about 1.2 billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal.

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