Sikh Offers Opening Prayer in Senate

June 11, 2008

Author: Mary Warner

Source: The Patriot-News

"Ek onkar satnam. There is but one God," began the prayer that opened the Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday, as Nirmal Singh of Fairview Twp. became the first Sikh to perform that traditional duty.

"We pray to the one God who created this universe with all its colorful diversity, ranng, as we call it," said Singh, using the Punjabi word.

The Senate's tradition of opening with prayer drew a complaint from a watchdog group last year that the prayers often contain language only a Christian would use -- for example, "in Jesus' name."

Prayers in civic settings are constitutional only when they're nonsectarian, said Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Senate officials said they comply with the law by ensuring prayers come from a variety of faiths, not by monitoring prayers.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that developed in India during the 15th century. Singh's prayer included phrases from Sikh scripture.