Friday, December 22, 2006

"Congress shall no make no law respecting an establishment of religion"

By Nancy Jane Moore

A right-wing congressman is attacking Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, for planning to take the oath of office using a Quran instead of a Bible.

Actually, the attack by Virgil Goode, a Republican from Virginia, goes further than that. According to Juan Cole on Informed Comment, he said:
The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran . . .
This is wrong on so many levels that it's almost impossible to count them. First off -- and most obvious -- persons taking an oath who wish to use a holy book in support of that oath should obviously use a book that means something to them.

Secondly, the official oath for members of Congress uses no books at all -- they are sworn in en masse raising their right hands. Many have private ceremonies for family and supporters and use holy books at that point.

Third, Mr. Ellison isn't an immigrant. As I understand it from the NPR report this morning, his people go back in this country to the 1700s.

And most importantly, any requirement that people use a holy book from a specific religion to take an oath for public office -- or that they follow a specific religion to get elected to public office -- violates the First Amendment to the Constitution. I can't think of a more egregious attack on the words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" than to require use of a Bible for taking public office oaths.

This is a tempest in a teapot, of course. No one is going to stop Mr. Ellison from taking office or swearing his oath as he pleases.

But it does show that there are people in this country who consider Muslims -- all Muslims -- as enemies.

And worse, it is just the kind of behavior -- like Bush's use of the word "crusade" when setting off to war -- that reinforces the idea that the US is attacking Islam.

Wikipedia has a thorough report on this controversy, if you want the facts without searching through rants on the blogosphere.

Me, I agree with Professor Cole:
So Virgil Goode should consider emigrating himself, to someplace where his sort of views might be welcome. They certainly aren't in the United States of America. And they never have been part of this country's values and principles.


Anonymous said...

Many in the media are misrepresenting what Goode said. He never said Ellison was an immigrant. The fact remains that it is likely that more Muslims will be sent to Congress if our immigration policies are not changed.

If you believe allowing large numbers of Muslims to come to this country would be a positive development, please make your case. England, France, the etherlands, and other European countries are having an extremely difficult time assimilating Muslims. If Muslims come here and assimilate as other immigrants have in the past and respect our Constitution, that would be no problem. But what happens if, as they have done in Europe, they start trying to force their religion on the rest of us? For example, Dutch taxpayers funded Muslim religious schools and mosques, and public television broadcast programs in Moroccan Arabic. In return for that, a Muslim receiving unemployment compensation from the Dutch government murdered Van Gogh.

The issue of Ellison's swearing in is much less important than his beliefs and membership in the Nation of Islam. The Star-Tribune and other media outlets in Minnsota largely ignored Ellison's radical background.

I think a fair question, one the Wolf Blitzers of the world will never ask, is whether or not Ellison's beliefs are compatible with our system of government.

Diane Silver said...


I agree with everything Nancy says, and I can think of dozens of ways to respond to your comment. But it's heading towards Christmas, and I for one, want to celebrate the holiday. Thus, I think it's time to let go of the argument.

May you find peace for yourself during this Christmas season.

Anonymous said...

"May you find peace for yourself during this Christmas season."

The same to you, Diane

Paul Levinson said...

Good post, Nancy. I usually concenrtate on the flouting the First Amendment receives from the FCC and others about freedom of speech and press - but its religion clause is always close to receiving a drudging, too.

Paul Levinson said...

I'll respond to anonymous: By refusing to let people of whatever religious beliefs come to this country, we would be turning this country into the very kind of closed society you apparently are against.