On Jefferson's Qur'an

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. 😉

3 thoughts on “On Jefferson's Qur'an

  1. Oh, you missed the fact that Goode doesn’t seem to realize that Keith Ellison was born in the United States.

  2. I wonder what’ll happen when we have our first openly Atheist elected. If I were elected I don’t think that I’d have a problem putting my hand on a Bible or a Qur’an, but if I could put my hand on neither I’d be happier.

    I don’t know why I’m surprised that Jefferson owned a Qur’an. For some reason it seems unbelievable. I thought that most of our foaunding fathers were hardcore Christians.

    I think Jefferson would be happy to know that his copy would be used.

    -Wesley

  3. For the official swearing-in ceremony, Wes, Congressmen don’t put their hands on anything. Goode’s objection was that, even in the unofficial, for the cameras ceremony, only a Bible should be used no matter what the circumstance, even though that ceremony actually doesn’t mean anything.

    I thought that most of our foaunding fathers were hardcore Christians.

    It may surprise you, but no. The Founding Fathers were, by and large, anything but. The Constitution is a remarkable document in that it mentions God not once. It’s very much a product of its time, and a few decades earlier or later and it probably would have had some reference to God. But because of when it was written, because of the influence the Enlightenment had on Madison, Washington, and Franklin, God simply didn’t enter into the equation. The Founding Fathers may not have been as extreme in their anti-Christian stance as Tom Paine, in The Age of Reason, was, but religion just really did not concern them, their lives weren’t ordered around it.

    (For something really fun, read the Treaty of Tripoli sometime–it states that the United States is not in any way a Christian nation.)

    I wonder what’ll happen when we have our first openly Atheist elected.

    It’s a good question. Surveys taken in the past few years have consistently shown that people would favor their children have an interracial marriage than marry an atheist. The first President Bush said that atheists weren’t citizens. The second President Bush said that being religious was a sign that a person is civilized.

    I feel that at some time in our history an atheist has been elected to Congress. Maybe not an open atheist, maybe a closeted atheist, but I feel confident that it’s happened.

    There’s some thought that Abraham Lincoln was an atheist toward the end of his life.

    In Jefferson’s lifetime he was accused of atheism. It wasn’t true–Jefferson was a Deist, not an atheist.

    And yes, I agree–Jefferson would be happy to know that his Qur’an was used in a ceremonial swearing-in.

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