First Muslim Congressman’s Oath of Office

December 7, 2006 by  


By Ray Hanania

In early January, Keith Ellison will take the “Oath of Office” to become a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Although Ellison’s name is “American” sounding, or “Western,” he happens to be the nation’s first Muslim elected to the Congress.

Ellison has asked that when his “official portrait” is taken, he be pictured with his hand not on a Bible, the Holy Book of Christians and Jews, but on a Qur’an, the Holy Book of Muslims.

That request has prompted Muslim-bashers to denounce Ellison. They are demanding that he be barred from being allowed to assume his congressional seat.

Although these Muslim-bashers insist Ellison’s request to take the oath using a Qur`an rather than a Bible is “un-American,” American law shows otherwise.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states very clearly that while every member of Congress “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution,” it continues in the same sentence, “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

In truth, it is those who demand that Ellison be prevented from holding public office because of his religion who are undermining the Constitution and sullying the very meaning of being “an American.”

Most Americans did not know that Ellison was Muslim when he ran for office, although it did get some coverage among the Muslim American community and in his district where foes went out of their way to point that out.

Ellison is African American, the largest segment of America’s more than 7 Million Muslims. He made a name for himself in the 5th Congressional district in Minnesota, leading campaigns for justice in civil rights, public safety, education and fighting crime.

Yet despite his record, and his unanimous victory in the November elections, people like Dennis Prager, who is a government-appointed member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council whose term expires in 2011, have attacked Ellison.

Prager, who like many right-wing fanatics is a member of the mainstream American media hosting a radio program, denounced Ellison as un-American, asserting he undermines “American values.”

Not unexpectedly, Prager’s racism is denounced by the Council on American Islamic Relations, which represents the nation’s fast-growing Muslim American community. But Prager’s bigoted view is also denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, which called his attacks against Ellison “intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American.”

In reality, the American Constitution, drafted in the 18th Century, only required the President of the United States to take an “Oath of Office.” That was changed mainly because of the Civil War when the nation was divided between the “Confederates” and the “Union” governments.

When the nation’s members of Congress actually take the “Oath of Office,” they will do so not with their hands on a Bible or on any religious icon, but standing as a complete membership together reciting the oath orally.

They will also sign an oath. And later, in a ceremonial gesture that elected officials use to promote themselves to their constituents, they will pose for an Official Photograph, many with their right hands in the air and their left hands on a Bible.

You can’t even see a title or anything that suggests that the Bible is a Bible, other than the common belief from past experience of seeing only Christians and Jews serving in the U.S. Congress.

Ellison would like to have his picture taken while his hand is on a Qur`an.

You might not expect views like Prager’s in a nation that claims to be the champion of the “Free World” and asserts it is the guardian of the rights of individuals to practice religious beliefs without government interference.

With all the legal issues aside, however, the views of Prager and other extremists like him contradict reason.

For example, what is the point of taking an Oath? An Oath is not considered binding unless it is placed against something that the person taking it considers sacred.

In American expression, we often hear individuals “swear on their mother’s grave” as a means of demonstrating how much they believe in something. Swearing on your religion is also a common and frequent practice in American society, demonstrating the person’s fidelity to truth.

How dishonest would it be to ask Ellison to take the Oath using a Bible, which doesn’t fully reflect his own personal religious beliefs?

You would think that extremists like Prager might insist that Ellison be forced to take the Oath using the Qur`an, to prove his fidelity to America.

But that might mean Prager and other American racists would be forced to swear on their mother’s graves they will stop preaching hatred and start practicing what it really means to be an American.

CAIR has rightly demanded that Prager resign from the government appointed US Holocaust Museum Council.

His continued membership undermines that board’s commitment to fight bigotry including Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitism.

Ray Hanania was named “Best Ethnic Columnist 2006/2007” by the New America Media. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.

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