June 16th, 2010
12:01 PM ET

'Ragheads' and Republicans: Is Sikhism a sickness?

Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Nikki Haley might have preferred the sex scandal.

After weeks of fending off adultery charges, this conservative Republican hopeful for governor of South Carolina is being forced to discuss her Sikh heritage now that state Sen. Jake Knotts has called her a "raghead."

The epithet raghead–also used by conservative Ann Coulter in a 2006 CPAC speech—has become a generic slur against Arabs, Muslims and other non-white non-Christians, but it was originally employed, in the early 20th century, against turban-wearing Indian immigrants, the vast majority of whom were Sikh men.

According to her campaign, Haley, who is Indian American, was raised a Sikh but converted to Christianity when she was 24. She now attends a Methodist church.

I don’t know what Haley is thinking when she gets down to pray, but it looks like she has felt pressured in recent years to stand up for her Christian faith over her Sikh heritage. According to an extensive review of her past statements on religion by CBN’s David Brody, when Haley was running for the state legislature in 2004 she described herself as attending both Methodist and Sikh services. Her website now emphasizes her “faith in Christ.”

Why would she do that? Because apparently Haley isn’t the only voter in South Carolina who thinks (as Knotts put it), “We need a good Christian to be our governor.”

Some day, Indian Americans will not feel like they need to convert from Hinduism to Christianity (as did Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal) or from Sikhism to Christianity (like Haley) if they want to run for high office. Some day, they will not feel any need to change their names–Jindal's given first name is Piyush; Haley's is Nimrata–in order to get elected.

Unfortunately, that day has not yet come.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Politics • Religious liberty • Sikh

soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Rufus T. Firefly

    Someday, perhaps Hindus won't feel pressured to convert to Christianity to be electable. Someday, perhaps overt religiosity will not be a requirement for office in the United States at all. I look forward to a day when the average American hears about the religious beliefs of a candidate and thinks, "How odd! You really believe that stuff? I wonder if you're rational enough to hold office."

    August 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  2. SKaur

    shame on CNN.

    August 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Vivek Golikeri

    I don't think Nikki Haley changed her religion just to get elected. I believe it was sincere. Of course, I am always saddened when someone converts to Christianity, but I think she is consistent with the rest of her life.

    October 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  4. sarah


    September 15, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Vivek Golikeri

      No Sarah, don't insult Yshua Bar-David, or "Jesus Christ" as the western world calls him. Whatever he may have been, be it man, god, prophet, philosopher or anything else, he was a man of honor. Insult what bigots and syphillis-heads do and say in his name.

      October 14, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  5. Rob W

    First US congressman born in Asia - "Congressman Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian American to be elected to the US Congress and to date remains the only Indian American." Read bio here: http://www.sikhpioneers.org/dalip.html

    August 12, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Rupinderjit Singh (Rubin Singh)

    I myself am a proud Sikh and I would never change my faith if I were running for a seat in the Government. I think Nikki Haley did something wrong when she did change her faith just to become Governor. When you are born a faith and raised with that faith you just don't change it just because people are discriminating against you. My opinion is that no matter what faith you should respect it and be proud of yourself and if you do want to change your faith you should do it because you want to not because you are forced to.

    June 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • Orion

      Hi Rupinderjit,

      A bit hypocritical of you to suggest that there is a problem with converting from one religion to another to better integrate as you obviously go by an anglicised name 'Rubin'.

      August 11, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  7. Rusty Freedom

    There WAS a day when non-Christians were regularily elected. There WAS a time in the US before laws were passed requiring a candidate be a Christian (many states still have this law). Many of our founding Fathers and first Presidents were deists and Unitarians (non-Christian). A lot of the earlier settlers came here to excape persecution from Christian Churches in Europe – they just couldn't them from following them here!

    June 18, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  8. Paul

    Disagree. That day came the day Barack Hussein Obama was elected. However both Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal changed their names a long time ago (when a Piyush or Nimrata probably didn't have much of a shot at high office) and probably have grown accustomed to their current forms. It's unfair to ask them to change their names back or expect them to.

    June 17, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  9. Abd al-Latif

    Don't forget Obama. He "had to" convert too. I guess political power comes before faith.

    June 17, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  10. huan

    sorry fellows !! i used to regard US as symbol of power and fraternity, a country where everyone is equally worthy of everything. i see it as homeland of racism now..!!!!!

    June 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  11. TotalNonSense

    Religion is a sickness, Islam is a like a flesh eating virus that need to be stop at all cost.

    June 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
1 2
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.