Friday, December 01, 2006

Debate Over Ellison's Right To Be Sworn-In On Quran

Minnesota Representative-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, made the seemingly unremarkable decision that he would take his oath of office in January on his religion's holy scriptures-- the Quran. However, as McClatchy Newspapers report, the decision has set off a fury of debate in the blogosphere. Dennis Prager a politically conservative Jewish talk-show host wrote a scathing article at arguing that Ellison should be required to take his oath on the Bible. He said: "Devotees of multiculturalism and political correctness who do not see how damaging to the fabric of American civilization it is to allow Ellison to choose his own book need only imagine a racist elected to Congress. Would they allow him to choose Hitler's "Mein Kampf," the Nazis' bible, for his oath?"

UCLA Constitutional Law Professor Eugene Volokh responded at National Review Online, saying that Prager "mistakes the purpose of the oath, and misunderstands the Constitution". He continued, "If Congress were indeed to take the view that 'If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book [the Bible], don't serve in Congress,' it would be imposing an unconstitutional religious test.... Letting Christians swear the oath of office, while allowing members of other denominations only to swear what ends up being a mockery of an oath -- a religious ceremony appealing to a religious belief system that they do not share -- would be [religious] discrimination."

UPDATE: McClatchy Newspapers report that in the official ceremony swearing-in House members, those taking the oath do not place their hands on anything. It says: "The House speaker administers the oath to members en masse on the floor of the House.... It's up to individual members if they want to hold religious texts.... After the official swearing-in, members often have photos taken at a staged swearing-in ceremony in the speaker's office or their own offices, where they can place their left hands on sacred texts or hold them and have their families or religious leaders present...."