Congratulations to Mazie Hirono: the first Buddhist elected to the US Senate

I just picked up on Google+ that Mazie Keiko Hirono has just become the first Buddhist elected to the US Senate.

Hirono is the U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, serving since 2007. She is a member of the Democratic Party, and is currently Senator-elect for Hawaii filling the seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka.

She will be the first female senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist senator. That’s quite a collection of firsts.

She considers herself a non-practicing Buddhist, but when sworn in she said

“I don’t have a book [to swear upon] … But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty.”

Hirono was born in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, in 1947. In 1955, Hirono’s mother left an abusive marriage by emigrating to the United States with her children.

From 1980 to 1994, Hirono served in the Hawaii House of Representatives, passing more than 120 laws. She was honored by a coalition of leaseholders as Legislator of the Year in 1984.

In response to Virginia Republican Virgil Goode saying in print that he wanted to take action because the US was “vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within … Judeo-Christian principles,” she made a staunch defense of religious tolerance and separation of church and state:

“It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress … What happened to separation of church and state and religious tolerance? I believe in those things.”

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