Saturday, December 02, 2006


I swear...

We have more, today, in the Wingnut Stupidity corner. It seems that columnist and talk-show host Dennis Prager is taking Representative-elect Keith Ellison to task for wanting to swear his oath of office on the Quran:

In a column posted Tuesday on the conservative website, Dennis Prager blasted Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison's decision to take the oath of office Jan. 4 with his hand on a Quran, the Muslim holy book.

“He should not be allowed to do so,” Prager wrote, “not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American culture.”

He said Ellison, a convert from Catholicism, should swear on a Christian Bible — which “America holds as its holiest book. [...] If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress.”

Representative Ellison himself says this:

The Constitution guarantees for everyone to take the oath of office on whichever book they prefer. And that's what the freedom of religion is all about.
...and one supporter agrees that requiring somebody to take an oath of office on a religious text that's not his violates the Constitution.

Now, I'm going to ignore the issue, which has been well covered in Blogwanaland, of whether our country was founded as a Christian nation, and all that — it wasn't. And, while I wouldn't in my wildest delusions say that the Christian Bible is something that “America holds as its holiest book” in any institutional way, I'll even, in today's magnanimity, grant Mr Prager that more people than not, in America, do consider it so.

Even considering all that, the issue for me isn't that what Mr Prager says violates the Constitution, but that it violates all sense. Consider these:

  1. Do people really think that someone determined to lie, cheat, and be corrupt would not do so simply because he had “sworn” not to?[1]
  2. Do people really think that whether the validity of someone's promise to be trustworthy depends upon which book he had his hand on at the time?
  3. If it does matter what the symbol is, doesn't it make sense that it would be more important that the symbol be significant to that person than to the observers? After all, the point isn't (or shouldn't be) to look good to us, but to extract as much assurance as possible that the official being sworn in is trustworthy.
  4. Do people really think it's a useful thing to have a “my holy book is better than your holy book” sort of argument in front of the world? Who comes out ahead from such an argument?

Given what the congressman is swearing to here, wouldn't it make the most sense for him to swear on the United States Constitution?

I'll leave the last word on this to Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House:

They can bring in whatever they want.


[1] Clarification: Clearly, it would matter for some people. My point here is that, lacking specific knowledge of what such an oath means to the person in question, we have no basis to know whether the oath means anything at all.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Yes, indeed: If he's going to swear on his holy book, it should be his. Would these guys think their oath on the Q'uran would be binding? And if he's going to swear on American holy scripture, then that's not the Bible: it's the Constitution and the Declaration.