WASHINGTON, 8 December 2006 — When Keith Ellison he was elected as America’s first Muslim congressman, he became front-page news not only in US newspapers but also in several of the Arab world’s largest newspapers and television news programs.
Now, Ellison has caused a storm even before arriving in Washington. The Democrat from Minnesota simply said he will carry a Qu’ran to his swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4 in Congress.
In Congress, newly elected representatives do not put their left hands on any book. They raise their right hands, and are sworn in together as the speaker of the House administers the oath of office.
The US Constitution says nothing about swearing to defend the nation on the Bible. But some commentators have insisted the US is a Christian nation, and the proposed act goes against its values and tradition.
Other Americans says the uproar shows an ignorance of the Constitution and the principle of religious freedom.
Many people worry that it reflects growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Leading the call of outrage against Ellison is conservative pundit Dennis Prager, who called Ellison’s wish to use a Qur’an “an act of hubris...that undermines American civilization.... If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.... Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.”
But James Joyner, who writes in “Outside the Beltway,” says Prager needs to read the constitution again: “Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values... I would point Mr. Prager to Article VI of the Constitution of the United States, specifically the third paragraph: ‘The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.’
“Nothing in the Constitution requires the taking of the Oath on a Bible, or any other book. Indeed, doing so would obviously constitute a ‘religious test,” notes Joyner.
Also, the 1st Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...” Some confusion may come from the long-standing tradition of presidents taking the oath with a hand on the Bible. But this is a choice and matter of custom, as is the phrase, “so help me God.”
President John Quincy Adams took the oath on a law book including the Constitution. President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a book.
Legal experts say there should be no confusion: “A congressman having to swear an oath on a scripture that he doesn’t believe in was unconstitutional from the very moment the Constitution was signed,” Kevin Hasson, head of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told reporters. “It would be beyond irony to violate the Constitution in the very act of requiring a congressman to swear his loyalty to uphold the Constitution.”
As for Prager, who has recently devoted a fair amount of his time attacking Ellison’s decision, he now finds himself on the defensive.
Prager, who is Jewish, has come under fire from fellow Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling his argument “intolerant, misinformed, and downright un-American.” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, says the text used should be that which “is most sacred to the individual taking the oath. To ask...otherwise is not only disrespectful to the person and to an entire religious tradition, but is asking the public official to be hypocritical.”
Source: Arab News