Saturday, December 02, 2006

People Are Getting Way Too Worked Up About Keith Ellison's Oath of Office

If you don't frequent sites that encourage you to spew hateful rhetoric about people who are different from you, you may not be aware that Rep-Elect Keith Ellison (D-MN) plans to take his oath of office while placing his hand on a Qur'an rather than a Bible. Since Ellison is a Muslim, this seems to make sense. Some, however, seem to think that such an act is a threat to the fabric of American society. This column by Dennis Prager, for instance, is making the rounds on the Web.

Now the American Family Association is getting involved, asking people to "send an email asking your U.S. Representative and Senators to pass a law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators." At least they recognize that, without such a law, there is no legal or constitutional reason to force Ellison to take his oath with a Bible (or with something other than a Qur'an).

Prager, by contrast, argues that "America, not [Keith Ellison], decides on what book its public servants take their oath." Not exactly. First, let's look at the Constitution (Article VI, Section III):

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.

Everyone takes an oath, but no "religious test" shall ever be required. Furthermore, taking an oath by placing one's hand on a text other than a Bible is not unprecedented. In 2002 Hawaii's Republican Governor Linda Lingle took her oath while placing her hand on a Jewish Tanakh. The idea that the moral integrity of the United States is somehow compromised by an elected representative choosing to take his oath of office using the sacred text of the religion he professes is just paranoid silliness.

As a Christian, the very act of swearing an oath is more problematic than the question of which text should be used. Consider Matthew 5:33-37:

‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

To be fair to our nation's founders, James Madison and company provided a semantic loophole ("by oath or affirmation") for those whose religious sensibilities are offended by swearing oaths. Richard Nixon, for example, opted to "affirm" rather than "swear." Still, the vast majority of our elected officials stand in opposition to Jesus' teaching by choosing to swear oaths. Maybe the AFA, a Christian organization, should call into question the very practice of swearing oaths instead of bullying the nation's sole Muslim congressman.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what would happen if he didn't want to place his hand on a holy book at all?

Just to be interesting, I think someone should try to take the oath using a copy of the Bagahvad Gita or Tao Te Jing.

10:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home