Friday, January 05, 2007

Muslim in the House

I applaud Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison for asserting his constitutional right to take his oath of office on the scripture he holds most dear: the Quran.

Our founding fathers, though all Christians, were a very diverse group of Christians. Many of their sects were persecuted in Europe for their non-standard beliefs, but they held those beliefs so strongly that they or their ancestors were willing to be persecuted for them. None of them would give up their own brand of Christianity in favor of another, so the framers were wise enough to include this clause in the Constitution:

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.
United States Constitution, Article VI

Over the years, the oath (or affirmation) of office has been given on many different books, scriptural or otherwise, and even on no book at all. Our Catholic president, JFK, took his oath on a Catholic bible (one that includes the Apocrypha); Jewish officeholders like Joe Lieberman have used the Jewish scriptures (what you would call the "Old Testament" without the "New Testament"), and I wouldn't be remotely surprised if a Mormon officeholder wanted to take the oath on the Book of Mormon, though apparently the only Mormon currently in Congress did not ask for that. According to the State Department, our fourth president, John Quincy Adams, took the oath on a legal treatise, Theodore Roosevelt used no book at all, and Quakers have chosen to "affirm" rather than "swear."

The important thing is that the officeholder should swear by what he (or she) holds dear, that he should swear to the One he believes will hold him accountable if he breaks that oath on the document that he believes makes him accountable. If Keith Ellison believes that Allah holds him accountable and the Quran is the document that makes him accountable, then I would rather have him swear to that being on that document than swear to a being he doesn't believe in on a document he doesn't believe in.

I suspect that the real reason for the objection to the use of the Quran has nothing to do with the choice of book itself, but to the choice of religion. Do they really care what book he's using? Or, as I believe is more likely, do they object to people choosing to swear by Allah instead of by Jesus?

A brief aside: It's probably worth noting that Israel has had Muslims in its legislature for a long time. I have no idea what document they swear on, if indeed they are required to take their oath of office on a document at all.

The State Department's website has an excellent article about the oath of office and Keith Ellison here:
U.S. Swearing-in Ceremonies Highlight Religious Freedom Legacy


momofmany said...

Are you sure they were all Christians? I thought Jefferson was a deist, as was Benjamin Franklin. According to wiki John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian. George Washington was closer, listed as: Anglican/Episcopal/Deist. I found this quiz interesting:

JewFAQ said...

I suppose it depends on how you define "Christian." Jefferson was certainly not a mainstream Christian, but he revered Jesus in his own way. And "Unitarian" didn't used to mean what it means today -- it was considered a sect of Christianity. I suspect that if you told any of our founding fathers that they were not Christians, they would have been offended.

Daniel said...

This is the only way I know to get in touch with you to say;

Thank-you !

Thank-you for all the effort you have put into your blog and especially your website.
It has been a very valuable tool for me as I learn more and more about my Jewish history and who I really am. I appreciate everything you have done to make your site, and your blog informative and easy to navigate.
You really have no idea how much your site has helped seems so little to say...but again...Thank-you!

A. D. Hunt said...

Sorry to leave you a message here but I cannot for the life of me find any other contact information for you. (how wise) As an young and poor theologian I stumbled accross your website in searching for information on Rabbinic teachings. When I did a compulsory search for "Jesus" at your site I was honored to find your address there. I felt it was honest yet just and respectful. Thank you for your graciousness despite your obvious uneasiness with the subject. I find it wonderful

JewFAQ said...

Thank you for understanding. Some people are offended by that page, but in my experience, the people who are most offended tend to be the ones who are most in need of it.

I used to get a lot of emails saying, "What does Judaism teach about Jesus?" usually from people who wouldn't take, "we don't teach anything about Jesus" for an answer. It would lead to a lengthy and unproductive back-and-forth that was depressingly the same with every person who contacted me on this subject. They wouldn't take "we don't teach anything about Jesus" for an answer. That's why I created that page.

tantie said...

Actually, there are 16 "Mormon" members of the Congress--well, the 2006 Congress. Harry Reid (D-Nev)is a member of the church (real name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). The LDS members were all sworn in with the Bible, I'm sure, because it is considered one of the canon of scripture of the church. It is a mistake to assume that the Book of Mormon takes the place of the Bible to LDS members. It doesn't. They are of equal importance.

Matthew said...

It's also worth noting that the foremost opponent of Elison's oath on the Quran is Dennis Prager, a very prominent Jew. It is also worth noting that Prager offered a compromise in that Elison should carry both books, a compromise Elison rejected.

I think the real objection Prager, and many others had, was that it was the first time someone had substituted one text for another (though I don't know what J.Q. Adams' thing was about). Prager feared that it could continue to spill over into other areas, allowing politicians to swear on all matter of books. That it didn't matter if the text was sacred to the nation, it only mattered that it was sacred to the individual. It is indicative of a shift away from the nation and family and toward the individual that many people find disturbing.

Also, I find the argument that 'one should swear on a book that keeps them from lying" to be scary. Shouldn't a politician's word be enough? Isn't it the man who keeps himself from breaking his oath, and not fear of G-d?

Orochimaru said...

jewfaq: I suppose it depends on how you define "Christian."


That's pretty funny stuff jewfaq. I like your posts and reply on this blog. I can always count on you for comic relief...BTW jewfaq can you taste the color purple too? or any other color for that matter?

Meira Shana said...

FewFaq, thank you for all the effort and love you put into maintaining JewFaq website!! Many times when asked questions by either Jews or non-Jews I refer them to you!!

It is never too late to learn!!

It's too sad that in the 21st Century there is still such religious intolerance aka acceptance.

I'm pretty sure your website is helping many people to better understand!!