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(photo credit: AP [file])
An Islamic civil rights group wants a columnist removed from the US Holocaust Memorial Council for criticizing Rep.-elect Keith Ellison's decision to use the Koran during his ceremonial swearing-in next month.
Democrat Ellison, who won his seat in the Nov. 7 elections, is the first Muslim elected to the US Congress.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Monday that comments by Dennis Prager, a columnist and conservative talk radio host, displayed intolerance toward Islam that makes him inappropriate to serve on the council, which oversees the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
President George W. Bush appointed Prager in August to fill the remainder of a five-year term, which expires in January 2011.
In his column last week, Prager wrote: "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. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, sent a letter to the council's chairman, Fred Zeidman, said, "No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had, and continues to have, on every society."
Messages left Monday at the Holocaust Museum and at Zeidman's office were not returned.
Prager, in a telephone interview Monday, offered what he called "a solution to this that would satisfy me and the vast majority of Americans": Ellison bringing a Bible with him along with his Koran.
"The issue has never been one of religious freedom or attitudes toward Islam," added Prager, who is Jewish. "The issue has been from the outset honoring the most important text of American history."
Ellison, from the north-central state of Minnesota, won an open seat race to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.
Ellison did not return phone messages Monday, but a CAIR spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, mocked Prager's offer.
"It's obviously up to Mr. Ellison to decide, but I don't think that forcing him to swear an oath on a book not of his faith is the answer," said Hooper.
By tradition, all members of the House are 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 Koran.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and racism, issued a statement calling Prager's comments "intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American."