I have to disagree with my friend Verity on this one. She objects vociferously to newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, taking his oath of office on the Koran.
Ellison’s website shows him as an unremarkable Democrat from the African American Left wing of his party. As most people here in the USA know, the African American community has generated all kinds of Muslims over the years, many of them far from orthodox, to say nothing of not being Wahhabi or Jihadi or anything else. As a matter of fact, his views on the gay marriage amendment would probably get him beheaded in Saudi Arabia. I am way to the right of him on religious grounds on that one, anyway.
The U.S. Constitution provides maximal latitude on the question of being sworn in. The pertinent article, Article VI provides, inter alia, as follows:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Our Founders were wise and practical men, and this provision, like every one in the Constitution, reflects that wisdom and practicality. They made provision for a religiously diverse country, as it was even at the time of the Founding. So, there is no requirement that a member �swear� at all, let alone on a Bible. The House is free to make any requirements it wants for the swearing in of its members, within the scope of the foregoing. Furthermore, there is the express statement that no �religious test� be imposed as a qualification for office. Hence, requiring a Catholic to swear on the King James Bible would not be acceptable. Mr. Ellison is free to swear or to affirm on any book, or no book, as he wishes, when he takes his oath. If using the Koran is a gesture on his part, whatever he or others may take that gesture to mean, it is a gesture Mr. Ellison is free to make.
What matters, and what the public should judge him by, is Ellison�s performance in office. If the people in his district like him, they will do so mostly for reasons unrelated to his religion. If they like him, he could probably switch to the worship of Satan and he�d be reelected. If his Islamic faith makes him in some way a poor congressman, he will be voted out. Or, if he is a poor congressman for some other reason, or if a stronger opponent runs against him, or if a rotten year for the Democrats rolls around, or any of a bunch of other possible things were to happen, he’ll be voted out. That’s politics.
Does Mr. Ellison’s religion make him a security risk since we are in a �war on terror� and our enemies are self-professed Muslims? I doubt it. But my doubt, or not, is irrelevant. There are rules, which Mr. Ellison is bound by. We should presume he is honest and plans to comply with them until we have some concrete reason to think otherwise. If he betrays secrets or otherwise betrays the trust placed in him, the Department of Justice will come after him. Or, he could be removed by the other member of the House.
As to whether Muslims generally think it is OK to lie to nom-Muslims, I have read this, and I have also read outraged opposition to the idea. I think you take people as you find them. Ellison�s honesty, or not, will be subject to scrutiny. In that he is no different from any public official. If he makes a habit of dishonesty, for any reason, there are plenty of people who would like that congressional seat, and they will be taking notice, and will run against him. That is how the process is supposed to work.
It is up to Ellison to make the most of his historic �first�. Congratulations to him, good luck to him, and I hope that the GOP takes his seat away from him in 2008 (unlikely though that is — a subject for another time).
Bottom line, I see no cause for alarm here. The system is working.