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New religious diversity on Capitol Hill

New religious diversity on Capitol Hill

Hawaii is sending the U.S. House of Representatives its first Hindu member, and the U.S. Senate its first Buddhist. Huffington Post reports:

Democrat Mazie Hirono beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), making Hirono the first Buddhist in the Senate. In Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard defeated Republican opponent Kawika Crowley, making Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress.

Both elections were cheered by Hindu and Buddhist Americans, members of two faiths that share a common history that traces back to ancient India.

“These are all signs of dharmic communities being accepted in the country,” said Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities. “It’s all about inclusion and acceptance. The feeling that my faith and my people are accepted. Ultimately, politics comes down to ‘how does it impact me?’ or ‘how am I included?’ It will mean so much for the upcoming generations of Hindus and Buddhists.”

Hirono, who was born in Japan, practices the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism. She was first elected to Congress in 2007 to represent Hawaii’s 2nd District, the seat that Gabbard won Tuesday. Prior to that, Hirono served 14 years in the Hawaii state legislature and was the state’s lieutenant governor for eight years. She is also the first Asian-American woman senator and the first senator born in Japan.

“I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty,” she said when she first joined Congress. …

Hirono and Gabbard will join an increasingly diverse Congress. The first Muslim to join the House or Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was first elected in 2006 and reelected for a fourth term on Tuesday. In 2008, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) was the second Muslim elected to Congress. In 2008, Rep. Hark Johnson (D-Ga.), another Buddhist, also joined Congress, making history with him and Hirono the first Buddhists to be elected to Congress.

More than a century prior, smaller religious groups also made headway into congressional seats for the first time. Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party was the first Jew elected to Congress in 1845, and represented Pennsylvania in the House. The first Mormon was John Milton Bernhisel, who joined Congress in 1851 to represent Utah. The only Sikh congressman, California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, was elected for three terms beginning in 1957.

Read full story here.

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