Thursday, November 30, 2006

An interesting exercise...

I was forwarded this article in an email today, about Keith Ellison (the first Muslim Congressman elected) who is planning to take his swearing-in oath with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible:

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism - my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

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.

What do you think? This is what I quickly typed up as an initial response:

How, exactly, does a representative taking his oath on a religious book other than the Bible "undermine American civilization?" It's just not logical. Also, "America" in the sense of all voting-age citizens (whom Dennis Prager feels he can speak for), doesn't decide the specifics of how representatives are sworn in. In the strictest sense, we don't even decide what laws are passed most of the time (besides state referendums, which are voted on by the population): we're a Representative Democracy, so our representatives decide which laws are passed-- not us directly. And in the case of what book to use while swearing in elected officials, the Constitution is the decider (ha):

"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." (Article

First: an oath isn't even required -- an "Affirmation" will work. That provision was put in because some people thought the Bible objected to swearing, just like Baptists do in most cases. Second, the Constitution forbids the requirement of swearing on a Bible specifically. A Bible is conventionally used, but if a representative couldn't serve unless he swore on a Bible, it would be a "religious test."

If, while taking an oath with the purpose of pledging to uphold the Constitution, a Bible were required to be used -- it would violate the Constitution itself.

Then I looked up the article on the internet to see if anyone else had responded to it, and Eugene Volokh raised the same points as I did (in National Review, of all places):

Yet this would literally violate the Constitution’s provision that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” For the devout, taking an oath upon a religious book is a religious act. Requiring the performance of a religious act using the holy book of a particular religion is a religious test. 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.

What’s more, the Constitution itself expressly recognizes the oath as a religious act that some may have religious compunctions about performing. The religious-test clause is actually part of a longer sentence: “The Senators and Representatives ... [and other state and federal officials] shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required ....” The option of giving an affirmation rather than oath reflects the judgment — an early multiculturalist judgment — in favor of accommodating members of some denominations (such as Quakers) who read the Bible as generally prohibiting the swearing of oaths.

Read the rest of the National Review article here, and another good summary of the controversy is here.

It's kind of funny that this whole thing was over nothing. Members of Congress are all sworn in at once, and none of them use the Bible or any other religious book. Oh well, it was a good exercise in reason.

No comments: