A prayer offered before the Fergus Falls City Council meeting Monday evening by Hindu statesman Rajan Zed drew approximately 25 people to City Hall with signs and prayers.
A prayer offered before City Council meetings has long been a mainstay in Fergus Falls so when Zed requested an opportunity to share a prayer it was granted by Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer. Zed is not a member of the local groups of Christian ministers who normally lead the council members, staff members and guests in prayer.
Zed offered his prayer in both his native language and in English via an interactive video feed. Following his prayer, the council recited the Pledge of Allegiance and the words.
Councilman Scott Kvamme did not choose to participate in the prayer session in the council chambers. He left City Hall and once outside joined a group gathered there.
“I don’t think I was out there for two minutes,” Kvamme said. “I went out and said ‘hello’ to a couple of the people I recognized and then it was time to go in. I didn’t have anything to do with organizing anything. I think if it hadn’t been so cold there might have been others. I appreciated their willingness to show up and be seen and heard and express their opinions in that way.”
Kvamme also pointed out that had the request for Zed’s participation come from the local ministerial association that normally does the invocations, the pushback that precluded his prayer might not have been so great.
“This guy essentially targeted Fergus Falls, he’s been doing this all over the country,” Kvamme said. “I think he has identified an opportunity with all of these Zoom meetings going on and he is taking advantage of it.”
Believing Zed to be an opportunist, Kvamme said his feelings were mixed.
“On one hand I give him credit for seeing an opportunity and kind of going for it,” Kvamme said. “On the other hand it was not something I think would have happened in any other way. It’s not like the people of Fergus Falls rose up and invited him in. There is no evidence that this was something that was generated locally.”
Rick Bolinske was one of the people who gathered outside City Hall before Monday’s 5:30 p.m. council meeting.
The gathering outside City Hall looked like a protest but Bolinske said that was not the case. One of the group’s members, Deb Kaminski, described it as a gathering intended to offer prayers for the residents of Fergus Falls.
“This goes back awhile,” Bolinske said Thursday about Monday’s gathering. “I was aware of it about a month and a half ago that it was happening and I know pastors wrote letters to the mayor, I know pastors went and talked to the mayor, I know regular people went and talked to the mayor, I know quite a few people did contact him over this before the council meeting. They were concerned that they were having this prayer at the City Council meeting.”
Bolinske said he disagrees with the God Hindus are talking to.
“A (Hindu) prayer is totally different from a Christian prayer,” Bolinske said. “A Hindu prayer basically goes back to the pagan religion over 4,000 years ago. It’s really pagan gods. They have not only god but gods. It’s totally a different religion and it’s praising a different god.”
Bolinske claimed that in addition to being pagan, the Hindu religion is into mysticism and into witchcraft.
“There are different spirits,” Bolinske said. “As Christians we believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we believe in the angels and that but there also is a different spirit, there are demonic spirits and fallen angels, there are really two different spirits that we are dealing with here.”
Bolinske believes he knows why Schierer allowed Zed to give the invocation March 15.
“I believe he did it out of love and was misinformed about what the love of our Bible and Jesus says,” Bolinske said. “Jesus is tolerant of other religions, he is tolerant of other people so he did it out of love and very naively brought it in. The problem with the love is, he is a Christian and goes to a Christian church, is to tell this person about Jesus, not to bring their demonic gods into the city of Fergus Falls because there is really only one God, there is really only one church.”
Bolinske practices street ministry. Not long ago he was in Washington, D.C., praying with a gathering of roughly 3 million Christians and in two weeks will be in Mexico walking 50 Mexican towns. He tries to be out on the street up to 200 days a year.
In a column submitted to the Daily Journal, Schierer addressed the decision to have Zed give the invocation.
“Many do not support this decision with regard to my faith. I accept this. I hope, however, they would acknowledge my duty to uphold the Constitution. In The Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not preclude a city council meeting from opening with a prayer. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy concluded that the ‘town’s practice of opening its town board meetings with a prayer offered by members of the clergy does not violate the Establishment Clause’ in part because ‘the town does not discriminate against minority faiths in determining who may offer a prayer, and the prayer does not coerce participation with non-adherents.’ No one is required to attend this portion of our proceedings, including City Council members or any member of the public. I have the right to express my faith under the Constitution so long as I do not deny anyone else that same right. This is not about being inclusive; instead, it is about following the law,” Schierer wrote.
Schierer also explained that at the time of the request, he assumed that Zed “had a local connection” and did not vet him prior as he had not done so for prior invocation requests.
“I have learned much in this process and wholly admit my mistakes. I have not vetted any individuals who have previously given the invocation, and I did not believe it was right for me to do so in this instance.”
In a call Kaminski made Thursday morning to the Daily Journal she said many people are not aware of the seriousness of the times.
“We are living in a time of great spiritual warfare and we have to be careful about a lot we bring in,” Kaminski said. “We need to wake up and really open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us. We live in a time of great deception. We can’t afford to be passive. Our families, or children and our country is dependent on us being wide awake at this time in history.”