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News >  Idaho

Religious leaders call for Idaho lawmaker to apologize for remarks about Hindus, she refuses

UPDATED: Fri., March 6, 2015, 12:15 p.m.

Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll
Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll

BOISE - An array of religious leaders, many of them from Nevada, are calling for Idaho Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, to apologize for her comments this week that Hinduism “is a false faith with false gods.”

Nuxoll made the comments to the news media after she, along with two other senators, boycotted a Hindu prayer that opened a morning session of the Idaho Senate; it was delivered by a Hindu cleric from Reno. On Friday, she stood by her remarks and refused to apologize, though she said she didn’t mean to say Hinduism was “false religion,” just that it’s based on “false gods.”

“I said it was a religion with false gods,” Nuxoll said. “I’m not going to give an apology.”

The religious leaders calling for the apology include the Episcopal bishop of Nevada; an official with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno; a rabbi and Jewish leader in Nevada and California; a United Church of Christ pastor; a Nevada Buddhist leader; a Unification Church leader; the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America; and more.

“Being a public official, it was highly inappropriate and insensitive for Ms. Nuxoll to call a major religion ‘false,’” said Dan Black, director of the Boise Institute for Buddhist Studies. “To show responsibility, respect and understanding that her words were hurtful to the Hindu community, Ms. Nuxoll should apologize.”

His comments were among many in a joint statement issued Friday. Rabbi ElizaBeth Beyer said Nuxoll “should be called upon to offer a public apology, and perhaps even be sanctioned by the Senate for her inappropriate, insensitive and insulting remarks.”

Nuxoll said, “I felt I had to abstain, because I’m not going to be praying to false gods. I’m a believer like Mother Teresa that everybody should be the best they can.” She said she encourages Rajan Zed, the Hindu cleric who gave the Idaho Senate invocation, to “be the best Hindu that he can for his faith and beliefs,” and said, “He can say a prayer anywhere he wants in the Capitol,” but said, “I’m in a floor session bound to follow the Constitution. … It is a Christian nation based on Christian principles. To start out our day, we usually say a Christian prayer. I would’ve been fine if we had also had a Christian prayer.”

David Adler, a professor who teaches constitutional law at Boise State University, said Nuxoll’s wrong on the “Christian nation” claim and on the Constitution. “Freedom of religion promotes and protects diverse beliefs, including non-Christian beliefs,” he said.

“She has betrayed the very constitutional justification for legislative prayer —religious pluralism,” Adler said. “Her words and actions, if followed by all legislators , would not only sanitize the chamber for expression of only those religious beliefs with which she agrees , but it would convert the Senate to a body that advocates particular religious beliefs, which would represent an ‘establishment’ of religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

Nuxoll said she believes the Constitution is “based on Judeo-Christian principles.”

“Prayer isn’t a show,” she said. “Prayer is a relationship with God – that’s what prayer is. So how can I join in a prayer where it’s a false god?”

Nuxoll said she’s received a number of emails about the issue, including “a lot running me down,” but also some supportive of her remarks. “There was one from a lady who said she had lived with the Hindus,” Nuxoll said. “She said there was a great amount of infanticide and abortion.”

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