Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will take his oath of office on the Koran, not the Bible.

Although some have criticized the Minnesota Democrat’s decision, his campaign manager cites historical precedent in describing it as a nonissue.

“Well, he will be the first to do it with the Koran,” Dave Colling said. “But most members do not even take an individual oath with any book. Keith Ellison will be taking his oath in the chamber with the other members of Congress.”

House members are sworn in en masse in the chamber, and no Bible or other religious document is used for the oath. However, several incoming House members use Bibles for their individual swearing-in, which is administered by the House speaker and takes place after the official group oath.

Mr. Ellison has been criticized by some Christian organizations and conservative radio host Dennis Prager, who say that even if the law allows him to take an oath on the Koran, he should adhere to what they call the historical tradition of taking the oath of office on the Bible.

“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,” Mr. Prager, who is Jewish, wrote in an online column.

The American Family Association (AFA) posted an “Action Alert” on its Web site requesting that supporters urge lawmakers to pass a law requiring that the Bible be used in congressional swearing-in ceremonies. “What book will America base its values on, the Bible or the Koran?” the AFA posting said.

“The premise of the attack is false,” Mr. Colling said, adding that Mr. Ellison has not refused to take an oath on the Bible, because his refusal would imply that such a requirement exists.

According to the Library of Congress, Theodore Roosevelt became the first and only president to take an oath without a Bible in 1901. In 1961, John F. Kennedy took his oath on a Catholic (Douay) version of the Bible. Several Jewish members of Congress have taken their oath on the Torah. Article VI of the Constitution specifies that “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

In 2005, a North Carolina judge refused to allow a Muslim woman to take her oath on the Koran before testifying. Guilford County Superior Judge W. Douglas Albright cited state law in the case, which reads that oaths are to be made upon “Holy Scriptures,” which analysts agreed is a reference to the Bible.

However, in 1997, a federal judge hearing a terrorism case in Washington allowed witnesses to make such an oath to Allah.

“This is a tempest in an Internet teapot,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Center for American-Islamic Relations. “With the rising level of Islamophobia in America, you have some people who see the empowerment of any Muslim as a threat to the Constitution. In reality, they should see the empowerment of such an individual as strengthening the Constitution.”

• Joyce Howard Price contributed to this article.

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