FACT CHECK: Was Tulsi Gabbard The First Hindu American Elected To Congress?

Aryssa Damron | Fact Check Reporter

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claimed that she is the “first Hindu American to have been elected to Congress” in a Saturday opinion piece for the Religion News Service.

Verdict: True

Gabbard, elected to the House in 2012, is the first Hindu American to serve in Congress.

Fact Check:

Gabbard, who recently announced a 2020 presidential run, made the claim while defending her faith against perceived religious bigotry.

She focused on reporting that called some of her supporters “Hindu nationalists,” possibly referring to an article published Jan. 5 by The Intercept.

“Those who are trying to foment anti-Hindu sentiment expose the dark underbelly of religious bigotry in politics and must be called out. To advocate voting for or against someone based on religion, race or gender is simply un-American,” she wrote.

Gabbard was born in American Samoa and moved to Hawaii with her family as a toddler. Her mother, who is Caucasian, was raised Methodist and later converted to Hinduism. Her father, a lector in the Catholic church, is of Samoan and European descent.

When Gabbard was sworn into Congress, she took the oath of office on the Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Hindu text.

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country,” she said after the swearing-in ceremony.

Gabbard has received some backlash for her faith, particularly from those who said her religion was not compatible with the U.S. Constitution.

“Hinduism is largely misunderstood today in part because of how it’s been portrayed in a negative and backwards way,” Gabbard told The Atlantic.

“In essence, it’s a monotheistic and non-secular practice,” she said of her sect. “It’s more about spirituality than sectarianism.”

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. identified as Hindu in 2014, according to Pew Research Center.

Gabbard is not the only religious minority to serve in Congress. Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono – also from Hawaii – was the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first two Muslim women were elected in 2018.

Dalip Singh Saund, elected to represent California in 1956, was the first person of Asian descent to serve in the House. Born and raised in India, he moved to the U.S. in 1920. As a member of the Sikh faith, he faced prejudice throughout his career.

Bobby Jindal, the former Republican governor and congressman from Louisiana, was raised in the Hindu faith but converted to Catholicism as a young adult.

Gabbard currently serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Despite practicing Hinduism, which is largely associated with the Indian subcontinent, Gabbard is not of Indian descent.

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Aryssa Damron

Fact Check Reporter