Anti-Defamation League on Prager
Press Release here:
ADL Statement on Dennis Prager's Attack On Muslim Congressman for Taking Oath of Office on Koran
New York, NY, December 1, 2006 - The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued the following statement in response to Dennis Prager's November 28 online column, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," where he said that the first Muslim elected to Congress should not be permitted to take his oath of office on a Koran:
Dennis Prager's argument that Representative-Elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, should not be permitted to take his oath of office on a Koran is, intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American.
Prager is flat-out wrong when he asserts that Representative Ellison's use of a Koran would be "damaging to the fabric of American civilization." To the contrary, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that, "no religious test shall ever be required" to hold public office in America. Members of Congress, like all Americans, should be free to observe their own religious practices without government interference or coercion.
Prager's patriotic prattling is misinformed on the facts, too. No Member of Congress is officially sworn in with a Bible. Under House rules, the official swearing-in ceremony is done in the House chambers, with the Speaker of the House administering the oath of office en masse. No Bibles or other holy books are used at all. Members may, if they choose, also have a private ceremony with family and friends. At these unofficial ceremonies, Members frequently solemnize the event by taking an oath while holding a personal family Bible.
Prager ridiculously asserts that permitting Rep. Ellison to take the oath of office would "be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11." What he fails to understand is that what truly unifies all Americans is a value system built on religious freedom and pluralism, not dogmatism and coercion.
Prager presents intolerant, ugly views. His comparison of Ellison's desire to "choose his favorite book" to that of the right of a racist elected to public office to use Hitler's Mein Kampf is outrageous. If Prager were merely a blogger and radio talk-show host trying to be relevant and provocative, these views might not merit a response. But as a newly-appointed member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Prager and his views must be held to a higher standard.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.
I agree. Prager's appointment should be pulled.
More at the Moderate Voice and debate link.
In fact, however, my understanding is that Jewish politicians and civil servants often take the oath of office by swearing on the Torah rather than the Christian Bible. (Anybody got any empirical evidence on way or the other?)
In the second, and more importantly, while I am a firm believer in the idea that immigrants to the United States (and their children) should be encouraged to assimilate to American culture, I don't share Prager's notion that it's necessary for politicians and government officials to "take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book" in order to "affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization."
Why not? For one thing, freedom of religious exercise is a core value of American civilization. Requiring someone to take an oath on the holy book of a faith he or she does not share violates that person's right to freely exercise their religion (not to mention constituting a government endorsement of that religion). Hence, for example, despite many movies to the contrary, courts generally do not require atheists to swear on the Bible or even to say "so help me god" before testifying.
Perhaps more seriously, however, Prager's claims remind me very much of certain arguments made by earlier Americans. We learn from the Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, that:
John Jay, of New York, who afterwards became Chief Justice of the United States, succeeded in fastening upon the Constitution of his own state a provision which denied the privilege of citizenship to every foreign-born Catholic unless he would first abjure and renounce all allegiance to the pope in matters ecclesiastical.
When Prager says to Ellison "America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath," I hear the echoes of John Jay. There's not much daylight between the arguments Prager is making and those made by generations of WASPs to keep people of my faith out of the public arena.