Keith Ellison Wants to Take Oath on Koran, Not Bible

Dennis Prager is hopping mad that Keith Ellison wants to take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Christian Bible.

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.

[…]

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 is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

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.”

There’s also the little matter of the 1st Amendment:

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

Furthermore, it’s not as if Ellison hid his Muslim faith from his constituents. Even though I paid almost no attention to his race, I was aware from Virginia’s DC suburbs that he was a Muslim. Requiring him to take the oath on a Bible, a book which means nothing to him, would be not only unconstitutional but absurd.

UPDATE: Jeff Harrell questions Prager’s intellect and muses about other alternative texts upon which one might offer affirmations of loyalty.

FILED UNDER: Congress, James Joyner, Religion, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    So, this Prager, those of you who know him — stupid? wicked? is there a 3d choice?

    Does this country mean *nothing* any more?




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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    James, it’s not strictly true that the Bible means nothing to Muslims. It’s considered a divinely-revealed scripture. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus of Narareth are considered great prophets. But they grant primacy, of course, to Mohammed and the Qur’an.




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  3. anjin-san says:

    Luckily for us, the constitution, not a bigot like Dennis Prager, decides these things.

    Christianity is a big part of American culture, but this is not a Christian nation. Islam is part of our civilization, as is Judaism, Buddhism and so on. That’s what makes America special folks.

    I don’t think the founding fathers would be displeased to see Keith Ellison taking his oath on the Koran. Of course, they were much bigger men then Dennis Prager.




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  4. Darleen says:

    anjin-san

    You’re pretty loose with the insult of “bigot” vis a vis Prager.

    He’s no bigot. And you don’t understand his argument at all.

    Maybe someone can tell me if it is a non-Moslem judge that will hold the Koran, will he/she have to wear white gloves in doing so?




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  5. Jose Chung says:

    Now that we are all constitutional lawyers here does anyone want to explain to me why all of sudden the act of putting one’s hand on the bible is an unconstitutional “religious test?”




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  6. James Joyner says:

    Dave: True enough. I just mean that the Bible is not a sacred text for Muslims in the same way as it is for Christians.

    Jose: It’s a “religious test” if required to the exclusion of those books of different denominations. It’s not a test if it’s an option.




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  7. bains says:

    I’ve often wondered, if one were to set fire to both the US flag and the US constitution, which would raise more ire. On the other hand, a wise person would not set fire to either (rarely are flag burnings not meant to be insulting). A astute politican would similarly chose not to insult their constituents and opt to place their hand upon the US Constitution if they found the bible objectionable. Having read some of the stuff regarding Ellison (the stuff that the MSM conveniently neglected to mention prior to the election) I’d say that Ellison neither wise nor astute.
    Of course, for many its just easier to call Prager a bigot.




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  8. anjin-san says:

    Darleen,

    I understand Prager’s argument perfectly. It is a bit sickening, but I understand it. Mr. Prager does not speak for this county and is in no position to dictate that “there is only one book America is interested in”.

    The kind of narrow mindedness he puts forth is not all that different that that of Islamic fanatics, IE, my religion, my rules, my God, end of story. I am sure the Mullahs in Iran hold similar views regarding which holy book will be used in official ceremonies.

    This is not a one-party state nor a theocracy. It is America.




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  9. LJD says:

    Bains- burning the Constitution would likely raise more ire, because there’s only one… 🙂

    Other than that, what’s the big deal? Do we believe an oath will help politicians take their office more seriously anyway?




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  10. Pug says:

    Mr. Prager is Jewish, not Christian. He doesn’t really care about the Bible. This diatribe is just a way to take a shot at a Muslim. Red meat for “the base”.




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  11. Beldar says:

    I’ve practiced law in Texas for 25 years. I’ve never once seen a witness take an oath, either in a deposition or before live testimony in court, on a Bible (or any other book).

    For that matter, I’ve never once seen a judge bang his gavel. They all have them, but the just never, ever use them. If it came to that, they’d crook a finger at a deputy sheriff/bailiff who’s got a badge on his chest and a 9mm on his hip, but I’ve only seen that happen once.

    The oath-on-a-Bible thing, dating back to George Washington saying an unscripted “So help me God” and kissing the Bible at his inauguration, is pure politics and show-business. It has nothing to do with actually becoming a Congressman or Senator or Supreme Court Justice or President.

    The oath, by contrast, does really matter — because if you’re impeached, it’s the oath that manifested your acceptance of the duty, the violation of which duty is the basis for your removal from office.




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  12. Bandit says:

    The kind of narrow mindedness he puts forth is not all that different that that of Islamic fanatics

    Except that he was elected in a democratic election, lives in a country that permits worship of all religions and isn’t facing imprisonment or the death penalty for practicing another religion it’s jsut the same.

    Praeger’s wrong but your comparison is ridiculous.




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  13. Robin Marty says:

    I would say that Prager is a bigot when he states:
    “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.”

    hmmm….swearing an oath on a different holy book is worse than murdering thousands of people?




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  14. Pug says:

    hmmm….swearing an oath on a different holy book is worse than murdering thousands of people?

    Welcome to Dennis Prager’s world. Michelle Malkin lives there, too.




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  15. sodium says:

    “…the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion… [and] it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims]…”
    Treaty between USA and Libya, ratified by George Washington, the first President of the United States, June 10, 1797.

    “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or Mohammedan nation.”
    John Adams

    “Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.”
    Thomas Jefferson; Autobiography, referring to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom




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  16. zoroastrian says:

    Except that he was elected in a democratic election, lives in a country that permits worship of all religions and isn’t facing imprisonment or the death penalty for practicing another religion it’s jsut the same.

    Despite your hyperbole, Iranians are free to practice whatever religion they choose, inclusing Judaism. His comparison may not have been perfectly appropriate, but your sensationalistic response is even worse.

    Darleen – why does it matter to you if the person holding it wears white gloves? Is this a personal affront to you? Or to Christians for that matter?

    Oh, Prager is a moron.




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  17. anjin-san says:

    Bandit,

    I was talking about Prager, not Keith Ellison. Read more carefully please. I am defending Ellison’s position, not attacking it.




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  18. Dave Schuler says:

    On the other hand, a wise person would not set fire to either

    At least not here in Chicago. Not without a fire marshall present. It could start a union action. And get a ticket.




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  19. Rob McMillin says:

    The GOP is all too familiar with meaningless printed material. Like the Constitution, for instance.




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  20. floyd says:

    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.”

    not so obvious , plenty of atheist’s have taken this oath without being forced to practice any religion, or even being forced to honor their oath, bible or no bible. the oath on the bible is a nod to the traditions of western civilization and to a tradition started by g.washington. nothing more, no matter how many people choose to get their panties in a knot. so honor the tradition or don’t, nothing more.




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  21. floyd says:

    “Requiring him to take the oath on a Bible, a book which means nothing to him, would be not only unconstitutional but absurd.”
    no governmental body has even suggested this nonsense.




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  22. Allyson says:

    The way that I see this, I am actually more comfortable with him and his Quran. Sure the Bible can serve the purpose, but the Quran will be held more sacred in his heart.




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  23. John Dodd says:

    Article VI – ‘nough said.

    Look it up!!




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  24. America’s first Muslim (from Morocco) had a farm on Manhattan in the 1630’s. Freedom of religion was the basis of American pluralism since the very first settlers arrived on Governors Island in 1624. The specific instructions they received constituted the legal-cultural foundation of this nation, well before 1791, as can be seen on http://www.TolerancePark.org. We hope that you will study that site in order to understand what our nation is all about. J. de Koning

  25. Scott Keibler says:

    Here’s my response I sent him.

    You have lunatic assumptions my friend, unless you happen to be kidding. You’d be surprised America isn’t a theocracy and hasn’t been for the past 230 years (look it up, I’m telling you the Truth). Everyone YOU know just might follow the bible as their one favorite book but it does not thusly follow to be true for all Americans. America should not be pigeonholed by a Christian extremist like you. Fear of divine punishment by the Christian God is a FALSE reason to be blindly approved trustworthy. Being sworn into public office in the American legal system should not be a religious test. Ellison’s refusal exemplifies his want and need to be honest with himself and the American people he represents. If Ellison were to swear an oath on the Christian bible it would be a lie and a religious blasphemy on his part. Imagine if you were forced by extremists to use the “The Book of Satan” or Darwin’s “Origin of Species” when being sworn into public office. How would you feel about that? Some things need to be changed and should be changed.

    Just because our current election stealing president happens to be a Christian extremist doesn’t imply the rest of us are Christian extremists too. Please quit making America out to be something it isn’t. You need to get out of your little dream world. Not everyone is like you. Discover how diverse America really is! Wake up!




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  26. Pat says:

    Swearing on the Bible is not a religous test. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the Bible or not. It is a symbolic gesture in which you swear on the most sacred text of this particular country. And based on our history, and the majority of our population, the Bible is the most sacred text we could find. The Koran, or a Golden Cow, or a lucky rabbit’s foot, may be sacred to you, but not most people in this country, so your oath is not going to mean much to anybody but you. We are a Christian nation which shows respect to other religions by letting them worship freely. I just wish Mr. Ellison would show a little respect in return.




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  27. Scott Keibler says:

    Pat says:

    The Koran, or a Golden Cow, or a lucky rabbit’s foot, may be sacred to you, but not most people in this country, so your oath is not going to mean much to anybody but you. We are a Christian nation which shows respect to other religions by letting them worship freely.

    Let the mighty majority allow the “others” to practice their petty “fake” religions. Xenophobia is alive and well.




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  28. Pat says:

    Dear Scott,

    I didn’t say “petty” or “fake.” I meant Christian values are the bedrock of OUR culture and OUR country, and therefore they should be respected. If I was elected to public office in Iran, and they said I must swear on the Koran, I would. Because it is that land’s most sacred text, and even though I personally don’t agree with it, I would show respect for the country and people I am about to serve. This is not a matter of religion, legal or illegal, it is a matter of common courtesy and respect for a nation’s heritage. Not everything is about YOU THE INDIVIDUAL, the favorite fetish of the left. Sometimes you put your pride aside, give the lawyers a rest, and remove your hat for the people and what is important to them. In this land, it is the Bible. In Iran, it is the Koran. I didn’t choose it this way, that’s just how it happened. But out of respect for both, I’ll never confuse the two.




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  29. Scott Keibler says:

    Pat:
    REQUIRING to swear an oath upon the bible should be considered unconstitutional.

    “Amendment I – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

    Now I’m not a constitutional lawyer but that sounds like it applies here. This Amendment might be subject to interpretation, like most human language, just like your bible. But at least the Constitution hasn’t been hashed up and misinterpreted through translation from other languages and mucked up by kings etc. Yet…

    And you’re forgetting about YOUR lost 11th Commandment; “Thou shalt not impose your religion upon others, unsolicited.”




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  30. TJ says:

    As a muslim i dont see anything wrong with taking an oath on any of these books i.e. Quran, Bible, Torah.. As they are all words of God.

    If Ellison is to swear on a book other than the Bible, only tradition will change. But if hes forced to use the Bible then the constitution will change.

    Peace from the middle east…




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  31. SR says:

    We are a Christian nation which shows respect to other religions by letting them worship freely.

    Really? Brrrr.

    See this page.

    The link leads to a very thorough, well-researched, and well-footnoted page supporting my argument below. Some of those points have already been made above.

    “We are a Christian nation…”

    The United States government was set up, intentionally, as a CIVIL structure – with no specific religious overtones whatsoever. They had ample opportunity to make this a Christian country, but deliberately chose otherwise.

    Pat, serious question: On what basis do you believe this to be a specifically Christian country?




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  32. Jeff says:

    If no book is required to be sworn upon, why the fuss? And it’s Bible, not bible. And the teaching of the Bible in school, and Christian beliefs of our founders, does hold value. Their awareness of not wanting to have government dictate religion, or the reverse, was to maintain functionality for both. I would have to guess that since there is a fuss, people are sworn in on the Bible. And either everyone does or, or no one does it. Being in a country of a supposed majority of Christians, while abortion, etc. reign supreme, tells me folks don’t take their religious convictions seriously, so putting your hand on a Bible won’t change much. But individuals don’t dictate these matters, any more than it is appropriate for a mayor in San Francisco to unilaterally marry gay people. Whatever the procedure, whatever the law, respect it and follow it, until such time as it is changed. As to Christianity, and fake and petty religions, and the many other comments and digs, I reckon each of us will find out for sure in time. Until that time, when we will know for sure, we have the right to choose as we wish in this regard. It’s a matter of the heart.




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  33. Tad says:

    And it’s Bible, not bible.

    Actually it should be Bible or Bible according to English Works. Unfortunately theres no differentiating between fiction and non-fiction. Since the Bible is fiction it’d be nice to be able to show it by placing it in quotes like “Bible” or something.




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