Before he became the nation’s first Muslim elected to Congress, Democrat Keith Ellison was called “unfit” for Congress by his Republican opponent. And that was just the beginning.
Ellison is setting yet another precedent in January when he takes the oath of office on the Koran, Islam’s holiest book—an event that evoked conservatives to accuse him of deviating his allegiance from the Constitution to Allah.
On Tuesday, conservative radio talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager wrote: “America is interested in only one book, the Bible.” Directly addressing Ellison, he added “If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”
Ellison said that he’s not changing his mind about the sacred text he’s swearing on.
“The Constitution guarantees for everyone to take the oath of office on whichever book they prefer,” he said in a telephone interview. “And that’s what the freedom of religion is all about.”
Abdi Aynte :: Ellison’s Oath On Koran Roils Conservatives
According to Roll Call, the Capitol Hills’ newspaper, swearing on a particular sacred text is a symbolic, optional affair for House members who would like a photo-op with the Speaker of the House at the end of the mass swearing-in ceremony, which has no specific religious denomination.
In his scathing article, Prager barely stopped short of calling Ellison a racist, but he said that allowing Ellison to swear on the Koran is akin to allowing a “racist” to choose “the Nazis’ Bible for his oath.”
And though he suggests that the Bible is the exclusive book, in which Americans should swear on, plenty of elected officials locally and nationally have taken their oath on the Torah.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, who’s Jewish, refused to use a Christian Bible in her swearing-in ceremony in 2005. Eventually, she borrowed a Hebrew Bible from a colleague. Others officials, including four U.S presidents have skipped swearing on the Bible all together.
The foray into Ellison’s oath on the Koran, led by Prager and a cadre of conservative bloggers, is seen rapacious by Muslims and tendentious by most experts.
“It’s a clear double standard in our society,” said David Landry, professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “There’s a lot of anti-Muslim bigotry in it.”
Rev. Meg Riley, director of Advocacy and Witness Programs at Unitarian Universalist Association, said that “Ellison is swearing on the Koran to uphold the Constitution of this country.”
“He’s not swearing on the Constitution to uphold the Koran.”
And by doing that, she said, he’s just using his desired sacred text to affirm his allegiance.
For Muslims, Prager’s column not only rekindles old wounds sustained during the campaign, but reflects a faith that is increasingly becoming a public prey.
“It’s ridiculous and utterly offensive,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, based in Washington D.C. “But what’s more saddening is that no prominent person is able to respond to those conservatives, because Muslims are easy targets.”
Asked if he’s disappointed with the criticism that seems to be glued to each step he takes, Ellison said that this particular outcry will eventually wane down.