In November’s mid-term election Minnesota elected the first Muslim, Keith Ellison, to the House of Representatives in American history.
Tomorrow Ellison, along with the rest of Congress, will be sworn in. There are generally two swearing-in ceremonies–the first is simply an affirmation of the oath of office, the second is often a photo-op for the constituents back home. The former is done without Bibles or other religious books, the latter is often done with the Congressman placing his hands on a Bible or other book. (I like George Will’s suggestion that the ceremonial oath should be done on the Federalist Papers instead of a Bible. Every now and then, Will has a good idea.)
Ellison, as a Muslim, wanted to perform his ceremonial oath on a copy of the Qur’an. And why not? He’s a Muslim, the Qur’an is his holy book. Sensible, is it not?
Apparently not, if your name is Virgil Goode. Goode is a Republican Congressman who represents central Virginia, from Danville and points west nort to Charlottesville skirting Lynchburg. Goode, in a letter to constituents, claimed that if Ellison were to swear his ceremonial oath on anything other than a Bible then American society would be irreparably harmed:
When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped. The Ten Commandments and ‘In God We Trust’ are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, ‘As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.’
Let’s follow the chain of logic here. The use of a Qur’an in a purely ceremonial ceremony will encourage illegal immigrants from Islamic countries who will overwhelm American resources and undermine American institutions like the United States Congress. Am I understanding you correctly, Representative Goode?
In my experience with Muslims in this country, I’ve found them to be quite open to American ways and institutions. There is, after all, something about this country and the way things work here that drew them from their homelands to come to the United States. Three hundred years of American history tells the story of the assimilation of immigrants into the American culture. An observation I heard on NPR a few weeks ago seems particularly apropos–the same people who squabbled and warred in central Europe for centuries over the most trivial of matters came to the United States and learned to live as friends.
Virgil Goode forgets his history.
Fortunately, Representative-Elect Keith Ellison did not.
For Ellison’s ceremonial swearing-in ceremony, he will be using a copy of the Qur’an. But not just any copy. No, he’ll be using Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy, currently held by the Library of Congress. Ellison’s spokesman, Rick Jauert, was quoted as saying, that Ellison “is paying respect not only to the founding fathers’ belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself.”
Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, one of the bedrocks of the concept of separation of church and state. Author of the Jefferson Bible, a redaction of the New Testament to eliminate anything that could not be empirically proven.
Jefferson, you see, was not a Christian. (For that matter, few of the Founding Fathers were, in any sense that people recognize today.) Jefferson was a Deist–there was something out there that created the universe and set things into motion, and that was about as far as his beliefs went. Jefferson, rather, craved knowledge.
Thomas Jefferson thought nothing of owning a Qur’an.
And now Jefferson’s personal copy of the Qur’an will be used tomorrow in Ellison’s ceremony. It’s almost as if Jefferson is thumbing his nose at the man who now represents the district in which he once resided. 😉