Buddhist religious leaders joined Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Jain leaders in a joint statement issued on 24 June calling for the removal of religious imagery from nightclubs across the United States. Specifically, they are targeting clubs run by the California-based company Live Nation, which has locations in Anaheim, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, and New Orleans as part of its House of Blues network.
Organizers of the campaign argue that the use of large Buddha, Jain, Hindu, and other statues in the clubs is disrespectful and should be discontinued. The group is also seeking a public apology from Live Nation executives for misappropriating the religious images.
“Symbols of faith shouldn’t be mishandled,” said campaign spokesperson Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, a Reno, Nevada-based organization that works to promote Hindu identity and foster dialogue between religions. “Hindu deities are meant to be worshiped in temples or home shrines, not to be thrown around loosely in a nightclub for dramatic effect.” (WCBV)
In Las Vegas, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino has been asked to remove statues of various Hindu and Jain deities from its Foundation Room nightclub. In their statement, the religious leaders said that “placing highly revered Hindu and Jain deities to adorn a casino nightclub was very disrespectful, out of line, and could be disturbing to the adherents of these faiths.” (India New England News)
In a statement responding to the requests, Live Nation’s House of Blues said that its Foundation Room clubs have “always been focused on promoting unity, peace, and harmony—which is more important now to the world than ever.” (Washington Post)
The statement continued:
In this spirit, we reached out to the coalition last week to discuss and mutually understand how we can best work together for the common good. We deeply apologize and immediately removed the statue Mahavira from all of our venues. We are reassessing the presence of all deities in our venues and engaging with the coalition and other religious experts to advise on next steps, including removal, relocation or other appropriate actions. We have always strived to promote dialogue to bring us closer together and are committed to this sentiment moving forward. (Washington Post)
Attempts to remove sacred imagery from bars and nightclubs are not new. In 2009, the French-owned lounge chain “Buddha Bar” came under pressure to close what was at the time its only Asian branch in Jakarta. Buddhists in the area appealed to courts and eventually won a favorable ruling, calling the bar blasphemous.
Buddha Bar featured cathedral-high ceilings and an upstairs restaurant with a six-meter Buddha statue overlooking diners. Downstairs was a cocktail club which—like branches in Dubai, Kiev, London, and New York—throbbed with lounge music before it closed in 2010, reopening with few changes under the new name Bistro Boulevard.
At the time, concern was expressed over the disrespect toward the Buddha in particular, as well as the potential for a slippery slope toward bars featuring other religious imagery. “If not, I’m afraid there will be an Islam Bar, Christian Bar, and other bars,” Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, Maftuh Basyuni, said. “This is important for harmony among religions.” (The Guardian)
In 2019, spokesperson Zed gain an apology from a Virginia brewery that brewed a beer named after a Hindu deity, saying that associating Lord Hanuman with alcohol was disrespectful. He has also reached out with complaints to major retailers and companies regarding the misuse of sacred images, including Amazon, Etsy, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Walmart, and Wayfair.
Refering to the current campaign, Zed said the timing was not deliberatly meant to coincide with the national conversation on injustice in the aftermath of death of George Floyd and other Black Americans, but acknowledged that the time may be ripe to address what he called the “highly inappropriate” misuse of sacred icons. (WCVB5)
Interfaith group: No Buddhist or Hindu statues in nightclubs (WCVB5)
Religious leaders urge Las Vegas casino to remove statues of Hindu and Jain deities and apologize (India New England News)
Indonesian court orders Jakarta Buddha Bar shut after blasphemy complaint (Reuters)
Buddha Bar chain urged to close Jakarta branch for religious reasons (The Guardian)
Buddha Bar Jakarta (Resident Advisor)