ellison ,keith muslim co.
(photo credit: AP [file])
A number of Americans of different faiths are demanding that syndicated columnist Dennis Prager step down or be removed from the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The reason for the demand is that the newly elected congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, has stated he wants to use the Koran to take his oath of office on January 4, and Prager has written in his column, "He should not be allowed to do so - not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization."
Prager's statement is both foolish and erroneous. Having been sworn in five times as a member of Congress, I am familiar with the protocol. The entire House of Representatives is sworn in at the same time, and members are not asked to place their hands on either the Hebrew Bible or New Testament - as Prager noted in a subsequent column.
The members are called to order by the Speaker of the House, who administers the oath to members who swear or affirm to uphold the US Constitution. Following that, the House adjourns and the members who choose to do so then meet with the Speaker for a private swearing-in at which pictures are taken. This will all be done on January 4, 2007.
I was first elected to Congress in November 1968. Remember that year? The Democratic candidates - Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie - lost, and the Republican candidates - Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew - won.
At the private ceremony, the member is again sworn in, in the presence of his or her family with a family member generally holding a Bible, sometimes a family Bible brought by the newly elected member. But members are not required to use a Bible. It is a matter of choice.
Prager, I believe, is simply distressed that a member of the Muslim faith who appears unsympathetic to Jews and Israel won the Congressional election in Minnesota.
Had I lived in that district, based on what I've read about Keith Ellison, I probably would not have voted for him. So what? The people who live there did vote for him, and he is entitled to place his hand on the Bible - Hebrew or New Testament - or any other holy document, including the Koran, at an official or private ceremony when reciting his oath of office.
If holy books were used at the official ceremony, he would and should have the right to swear or affirm on a document of his choice, recognized by the world as a document of faith, but, as Prager pointed out in his subsequent column, the documents are in fact used at private ceremonies.
Dennis Prager's columns on this issue convey bias and bigotry directed at Mr. Ellison, his faith, and at all Muslims who revere the Koran and demand using it at their being sworn, as Christians revere the Old and New Testaments and Jews revere the Torah and demand those holy books be used when they are sworn.
Prager is not qualified to serve on the board of the Holocaust Council. The purpose of the Holocaust Museum is to teach the world's adults and children how wrong it was for the Nazis to wage a war of extermination against Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents and dissenters. Members of the commission, of which I am one, have, I believe, the obligation to extend this message of tolerance to the farthest reaches of the world. Prager has not done that when tested in this matter.
A voice from history, that of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879), the first Jew in England to be elected to Parliament in 1847 is relevant.
Rothschild was first elected to sit in the British Parliament but could not do so as he refused to take the oath that spoke of Christianity as "the true faith." After attempts to change the law in 1858, Rothschild with a covered head and using the Hebrew term for God was able to claim his seat and became the first openly Jewish parliamentarian.
And then there was another Jew who served as one of England's great prime ministers. Benjamin Disraeli was baptized by his father at the age of 13. To be allowed to sit in the British Parliament, Disraeli had to belong to the Church of England, but his allegiance to his ancestors was an open secret. When responding to an attack on his Jewishness, Disraeli replied: "yes, I am a Jew and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon."
My advice to Dennis Prager is: reconsider your position. Prager should recognize that bigotry is wrong when directed at anyone because of their religion and that, notwithstanding the current battle of civilizations occurring across the world with radical Islam and its use of terrorism, Islam and its largest grouping of Muslim adherents are part of the world's great monotheistic religions.
The writer is the former mayor of New York City.