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Williams misses the point of governor’s participation in ceremony

By Stephen Lega

Earlier this year, I read Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University. After last week, I’m wondering if I should loan my copy to Senate President David Williams.

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Prothero had two main points: one, many Americans know little about any religion (and in fact, any denomination), in many cases including their own; and two, it is a good idea to become familiar with the basic beliefs of other faiths.

For all I know, Williams may be a religious scholar, but his comments last week reflected a serious misstatement of Gov. Steve Beshear’s participation in a Bhoomi Poojan, a traditional Indian ground-blessing ceremony performed before the ground-breaking at Flex Films in Elizabethtown. Flex Films is an Indian company.

Williams was quoted as saying this about Beshear and his participation in the ceremony: “He tries to play the Baptist card and then climbs down into a pit and participates ... in Hindu prayers,” Williams was quoted as saying.

Williams also said, “[Beshear] was the one that was sitting there with his legs folded in the lotus position with a red mark on his forehead with his head bowed with incense burning.”

First off, Beshear was sitting cross-legged, just like thousands of kindergarteners across Kentucky do every day. Also, I seriously doubt our governor is flexible enough to assume the lotus position. (Google it if you aren’t sure.)

Second, Williams implied that Beshear was engaged in some sort of idolatry, according to more than one media outlet. The Hindu owners of the business were, well, less than pleased with Williams’ observations.

Peter Smith, the religion writer for the Courier-Journal, wrote about the aftermath of Williams comments in his Faith and Works blog. He noted Hindus themselves disputed that Beshear’s presence was the same as participating in the prayers.

“Hindus have said that sitting in the ceremonial pit of such a ceremony and receiving the ceremonial ‘tilak’ on the forehead does not necessarily mean one is engaging in Hindu worship - although it can be - but it can also be protocol for a guest of honor,” Smith wrote.

Something tells me the owners of the factory would have considered the governor a guest of honor.

Williams has argued that his moniker, “the Bully from Burkesville”, is unfair. If he really wants to refute that, he’s going to have to do better than he did last week.

Now, to be fair, I can understand why Williams on a personal level might have been uncomfortable sitting where Beshear sat. If Williams finds himself in a similar position, I just hope as he can find a way to politely decline.