Background — A Petition for White House Commemoration of Vesak

The United States is a land of great promise for people of faith. For centuries, peoples have come from across the globe to practice their beliefs in the midst of the broad and open community that our country and its constitution promises to protect. Today, Americans happily celebrate the traditions of many faiths, even within the halls of the White House. The White House has been the venue for prayer breakfasts bringing together Christians of all denominations, Seders to mark the solemn events of Passover, the lighting of the lamps of Diwali, and iftar dinners to break the Ramadan fast.

Unfortunately, there is a faith held by millions of Americans that has never had its own celebration at the White House: Buddhism.

Buddhists have been part of the American melting pot since the arrival of Asian workers and their families in the mid-nineteenth century. American Buddhists today come from all ethnic backgrounds, from families newly arrived immigrants to families that have been on this continent since before the founding of our republic. They have fought in our wars, helped build our nation’s infrastructure, endured discrimination and internment, founded businesses that created thousands of jobs, and brought us some of the most important products of our generation.

We ask your help, whether you are a Buddhist yourself or merely someone who supports the right of all religious people to have their faith treated with equal dignity and respect, in asking the White House for the same kind of recognition it has given other American religions and marking Vesak Day, the most important Buddhist holiday, with an official annual message and public commemoration attended by the President of the United States of America.

What is Vesak?

Vesak is the most important holy day of the Buddhist calendar, commemorating the day of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away. While the name and date vary somewhat in Buddhist countries according to national customs, it is generally observed on the full moon day in May. In 1999, Vesak received official recognition from the United Nations as a major world religious holiday.

Why does White House recognition matter?

Americans of many faiths have had the honor and privilege of having their important holidays commemorated at the White House. To date, the White House has hosted celebrations of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu holidays. In the spirit of equality and considering the millions of Buddhists that call the U.S. their home, it seems only fair that a similar commemoration should be afforded to American Buddhists, whose heritage and contribution to this country is no different, and no less important, than those of other faiths. We do not seek any special treatment or favor, just the same that has been offered to and received gratefully by our fellow citizens of other faiths.

How many Buddhists are there in the United States?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Religious Composition by Country, 2010-2050, there are more than 3.5 million Buddhists in the U.S., making it the third largest religion in the country. The majority of American Buddhists are Asian Americans, but there are Buddhists in the United States from every ethnic and cultural background. In addition to those who consider themselves Buddhist, Buddhism has significantly influenced the lives of countless other Americans culturally, intellectually, and spiritually.