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The Collective
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Townhall comes a remarkable column by Dennis Prager: America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on. In the piece he takes to task the fact that Representative-elect Ellison (D-MN) wants to use a Koran in his swearing-in ceremony:

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization

[…]

When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim Americans want to bequeath to America. But if it is, it is not only Europe that is in trouble.

First, surely Prager does not think that Ellison using the Koran is more damaging than the 9-11 attacks. That is perhaps the worst hyperbole I have read in some time.

Second, it is odd that Prager should be having such a negative reaction to the idea of a Muslim member of Congress. Aren’t we currently fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at least partially predicated on the notion that the Muslim faith and democracy are compatible? Surely we should be pleased that someone of that faith is able to successfully participate in our own democratic system.

Third, the notion that there is some requirement that all persons serving in the US government all take their oath of office on the Christian Bible is simply incorrect. We can start with the following from Article VI of the US Constitution:

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.

In the same paragraph that mentions the oath of office we find the statement that there be no religious test for holding office in the federal government of the United States. Surely it is obvious on its face that requiring the usage of a particular holy book would fall in that category (not to mention the 1st Amendment). More to the point, there is no mention whatsoever in that clause about process (like the usage of any book). So Prager is on thin ice to insist that there is some deep principle being violated here.

The federal code has the following on the oath of office, and it does not mention the usage of books: US CODE: Title 5,3331. Oath of office

§ 3331. Oath of office

An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” This section does not affect other oaths required by law.

Again: nothing about books.

Beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, he is simply wrong to state that all of our elected officials have all used the Bible in their swearing in ceremonies. The Minnesota Monitor has some examples of officials who have used other religious texts in their swearing-ins. Also, Barbara O’Brien points to this list of which texts were used by Presidents in their swearing-in ceremonies. Note that there are a few (like Teddy Roosevelt) who did not use a Bible. LBJ used a missal, or Catholic prayer book.

As such, Prager is factually incorrect in the central thesis of his column.

And ultimately what could be more American than being allowed to decide what texts and beliefs one holds sacred and yet doing so in the context of democratic government and shared respect for the choices the other elected members of Congress wish to make? This is a key example of assimilation, not a case of the opposite.

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: US Politics | |

5 Comments

  1. Good post, Steven. I guess that Prager has never heard of the Quakers.

    Comment by Brett Marston (guestblogger) — Wednesday, November 29, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  2. Mr. Taylor said…

    “First, surely Prager does not think that Ellison using the Koran is more damaging than the 9-11 attacks.”

    Wrong, Mr. Prager said that…

    “… If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the UNITY (emphasis mine) of America and to the VALUE SYSTEM that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11.”

    On his radio program today, Mr. Prager mentioned that 911 did no damage to the unity of America and/or its value system.

    Mr. Taylor than said…

    “Second, it is odd that Prager should be having such a negative reaction to the idea of a Muslim member of Congress.”

    This is a deliberate misrepresentation of Mr. Prager’s article. Mr. Prager’s reaction is not to the idea of a Muslim member of congress… only to his insistence that America change a long-standing an important tradition in American government.

    Then Mr. Taylor said…

    “Third, the notion that there is some requirement that all persons serving in the US government all take their oath of office on the Christian Bible is simply incorrect.”

    Another deliberate misrepresentation. Mr. Prager never said or wrote that taking the oat on a bible is a “requirement”.

    Strawmen do not make good debate companions. There are good arguments against Mr. Prager’s position without employing one.

    Comment by Brian — Friday, December 1, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

  3. […] (BTW, I dealt with the use of the Koran at Ellison’s private swearing in ceremony here and here). […]

    Pingback by Mr. Ellison’s Strange Letter (Islamophobia Edition) at Conservative Times--Republican GOP news source. — Thursday, December 21, 2006 @ 9:06 am

  4. […] We return for a moment to the issue of the swearing of oaths that has recently gotten under the skin of both Dennis Prager and Representative Virgil Goode. […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » On the Swearing of Oaths — Thursday, December 28, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

  5. […] As regular readers will recall, there has been quite a brouhaha over the fact that Representative Keith Ellison wishes to use the Koran, his Holy Book of choice, at his private swearing-in ceremony this week.  This move has outraged Virginia Representative Virgil Goode.  […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Too Funny: Jefferson’s Koran — Wednesday, January 3, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

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