At swearing in, congressman wants to carry Koran. Outrage ensues.
Keith Ellison hasn't even started his new job, and he's already under fire.
When America's first Muslim congressman, a Democrat from Minnesota, let it be known he will carry a Koran to his swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4, conservative pundit Dennis Prager called it "an act of hubris ... that undermines American civilization."
In allowing for an affirmation in place of an oath, the Constitution also makes room for atheists or agnostics.
Prager, who is Jewish, has come under fire from fellow Jews. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling his argument "intolerant, misinformed, and downright un-American." Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, says the text used should be that which "is most sacred to the individual taking the oath. To ask ... otherwise is not only disrespectful to the person and to an entire religious tradition, but is asking the public official to be hypocritical."
The Council for American-Islamic Relations has called for Prager to be dropped from his recent presidential appointment to the Holocaust Memorial Council. "He is trying to marginalize Muslims by making it seem as though any practice of American Muslims is different or 'other' than what America stands for," says Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's legal counsel.
Mr. Ellison's office did not provide the Monitor with a statement, but his incoming chief of staff, Kari Moe, has said the issue is straightforward. "Religious freedom is a tradition in our country," she told the Associated Press.
For his part, Prager has posted a new column on the townhall.com website in response to the criticism. In a phone interview, he says he agrees that religious freedom does allow Ellison to use whatever book he likes.
"But I'm afraid we are becoming a diverse, secular society without any roots, and this is symbolically an example of that," he says. "The Bible is the repository of our values, not the Constitution ... and I'm asking him to honor that and include the Bible along with the Koran."