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5 religious facts about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a Black Baptist with a Hindu family

This story has been updated to reflect the results of the election.

(RNS) — Few, if any, running mates have had as much exposure to world religions as Kamala Harris, the 55-year-old California senator who just became vice president-elect.

Harris’ ethnic, racial, and cultural biography represents a slice of the American population that is gaining momentum but has never been represented in the nation’s second-highest office.

Here are five religious facts about Harris:

She was raised in Hinduism and Christianity.

His mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was from Chennai, India; his father, Donald Harris, of Jamaica. The two met as graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her name, Kamala, means “lotus” in Sanskrit, and is another name for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. She visited India several times as a girl and met her family there.

But because her parents divorced when she was 7, she also grew up in Oakland and Berkeley attending mostly black churches. Her downstairs neighbor, Regina Shelton, often took Kamala and her sister, Maya, to the Oakland 23rd Avenue Church of God in Oakland. Harris now considers herself a Black Baptist.

She is a member of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, led by Reverend Amos Brown.

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She is married to a Jewish man.

Harris met her husband, Los Angeles attorney Douglas Emhoff, on a blind date in San Francisco. They married in 2014. At their wedding, the couple broke a glass to honor Emhoff’s upbringing (a traditional Jewish wedding custom).

It was Harris’s first marriage and his second. An article in the Jewish press describes his impersonation of his Jewish stepmother, Barbara Emhoff, as “worthy of an Oscar”.

Harris’s stepchildren gave her the nickname “Momala”, which not only rhymes with Kamala, but also with the Yiddish term for mother’s endearment, “mamaleh”.

She has been criticized for not proactively participating in civil cases against Catholic clergy sexual abuse during her years as a prosecutor.

After graduating from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, Harris specialized in prosecuting sex crimes and child exploitation as a junior prosecutor. But two investigations by The Intercept and The Associated Press found Harris was consistently silent on the Catholic Church abuse scandal – first as San Francisco district attorney, then as California attorney general. .

Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of priests say she resisted informal requests to help them with their cases and refused to release church records on abusive priests that had been collected by her predecessor, Terence Hallinan.

As Attorney General, Harris filed a case with the U.S. Supreme Court asking him to deny Hobby Lobby’s request to deny women health care coverage for contraception because of the owner’s religious beliefs. the chain of craft stores.

In his 2014 brief, supported by 15 states and the city of Washington, D.C., Harris wrote that if Hobby Lobby were allowed to suspend birth control coverage on religious grounds, it could lead other companies to demand similar exemptions to national civil rights laws.

In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that family businesses cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Later, as a U.S. senator, Harris co-sponsored a congressional bill to weaken the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to ensure it was not used to enable discrimination in the name of religion.

The measure, called the Do No Harm Act, was first introduced in 2017 and then again in 2019. The RFRA was originally passed in 1993 to prevent the government from “drastically interfering with the exercise of a person’s religion. Proponents of Do No Harm believed that the RFRA “should not be construed as granting an exemption from generally applicable law”.

If passed, it would have ensured that religious employers could not deny employees health care coverage or seek exemptions from civil rights laws.

When running for president last year, she often used the New Testament parable of the good Samaritan.

Jesus tells the parable of a stranger who helps a man beaten and left by the side of the road. Harris said it helped her clarify who her “neighbor” was.

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“Neighbor isn’t having the same postcode,” Harris said at a campaign forum for the poor last year. “What we learn in this parable is that the neighbor is someone you pass on the street. … Neighbor is about understanding and living in service to others – that we are all brothers and sisters to each other.

In other speeches, Harris invoked liberation theology, the trend in Christian thought that emphasizes social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples.

“Justice is on the ballot,” Harris said at an event hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party last year.

“Economic justice is on the ballot. …Health care justice is on the ballot. … Educational justice is on the ballot. … Reproductive justice is on the ballot. … Justice for children is on the ballot. … Here’s the bottom line, Iowa. I believe that when we overcome these injustices, we will unlock America’s promise and the potential of the American people.