In a groundbreaking moment in Congress, a Sikh religious leader initiated the proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives by delivering a prayer, marking the first occurrence of its kind in congressional history.
The guest chaplain, Giani Jaswinder Singh, kicked off the proceedings on September 29 after an announcement from the House Speaker.
‘‘Ik Onkar Satguru Prasad,’’ Singh said at the start of his prayer, speaking in the Punjabi language native to the Indian Subcontinent, where Sikhism was born. The words mean: “One universal creator God, by the grace of the true guru.’’
“Almighty God … we call You by many names but You are one,” continued Singh, who is the head priest—or granthi—at the Pine Hill Gurdwara in New Jersey. “Keep Your divine hand over the members of this House as they help steer the future of our great nation. Keep truth on our tongues, love in our hearts, and sound judgment in our minds. Remind us of our purpose: to love and serve one another and create a more peaceful world.”
Prayers devoted to the opening of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., are usually recited by Christian religious leaders.
“The history made today is a reminder that the United States welcomes and values and will remain committed to free expression of religion,” said U.S. Representative Donald Norcross from New Jersey’s First Congressional District.
Singh’s “spiritual leadership,” Norcross added, has “fostered a vibrant Sikh community” in South Jersey. “It is an honor to be a part of history today with Giani Singh, and I want to thank him for leading the prayer today and for the work that he does in our community every day.”
Hailing from India, Singh obtained a diploma in Sikh Studies from Sikh Missionary College in the city of Anandpur Sahib in the northern Indian state of Punjab in 2003.
Subsequently, Singh took on the role of a Sikhism educator at the college, where he worked until 2007. His journey led him to Canada in 2018, where he served as a Sikh preacher before assuming the position of head granthi at the gurdwara in Pine Hill.
The practice of commencing legislative sessions with a prayer began with the First Continental Congress in 1774.
The House guest chaplain program—a tribute to the U.S. Constitution’s dedication to upholding the principle of freedom of religious expression—enables members of Congress to endorse constituents from their respective districts to represent the diverse religious traditions within their communities.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
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