Christian conservatives are fond of harping on the harmless nature of their blurring of the state-church divide. But it's clear where such rhetoric is leading us:
WASHINGTON - Keith Ellison, who will become the first Muslim member of Congress next month, has offended some conservatives with his plan to use the Quran during his ceremonial swearing-in. The decision by Ellison, D-Minn., to use the Muslim holy book for the ceremony instead of the Bible triggered an angry column by Dennis Prager on the Web site Townhall.com this week. Headlined, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager argued that using the Quran for the ceremony "undermines American civilization."
Let's paraphrase the following. Basically, the author is saying, "The state, not the individual, will determine public officials' choices on purely religious matters." I've long known that the historical accuracy of reports of our forefathers coming to the "new world" in search of religious freedom for all was highly questionable. But I guess that we're going to now abandon even the facade of being a pluralistic democracy. The article continues...
"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible," he wrote. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress." Conservative bloggers have picked up the criticism and run with it.
Conservative bloggers can always be counted upon to pick up the latest talking points from Fox News or elsewhere and repeat the nonsense verbatim without the least bit of analysis as they all run lemming-like for the nearest cliff.
Ellison was unavailable for comment Friday, but his incoming chief of staff, Kari Moe, dismissed the brouhaha. "I think the criticism is being flamed by the politics of division that were rejected in the '06 election cycle," said Moe, who worked for 10 years for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Moe, speaking in a telephone interview, noted that the tradition is for all members of Congress to be sworn in together on the House floor. It's in the photo-op ceremony that a Bible is used — or in Ellison's case, the Quran.
We wouldn't want anyone abandoning the sacred traditions of our photo-ops!
But Prager argued in a telephone interview that the ceremony was no less significant than the actual swearing-in. "Oh, that's the whole point — it's exactly because it's ceremonial that it matters to me," he said. "Ceremonies matter. Ceremonies are exceedingly important. That is the way a society states what is most significant to it." Prager argued that the issue wasn't about freedom of religion. "I want Jews like myself to take the oath on the Bible, even though the New Testament is not our Bible," he said.
Actually, the Old Testament is part of the Bible. For that matter, Muslims generally accept the Old Testament as well and accept the idea that Jesus was a prophet. But this is all neither here nor there. If the majority religion in the U.S. shifts, will Christians suddenly find themselves willing to swear on the Buddhist sutras or the sacred texts of other religions? If not, why are they asking people who believe other religions to do something that they themselves would never do?
Asked if it would be a problem for a Jewish lawmaker to take the oath on a Bible that included only the Old Testament, Prager responded, "Yes, it would," because he said the point is to honor the "Bible of this country."
Countries have their own Bible!?
But despite writing that Ellison shouldn't serve in Congress if he doesn't take an oath with the Bible, Prager said he didn't think Ellison should be banned from serving. "I don't think anything legal should be done about this," he said.
I disagree. I think Prager should be tarred and feathered and then sent into exile.
Moe said the issue was pretty straightforward. "Religious freedom is a tradition in our country," she said. Ellison won an open seat race to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.