Congressman's decision to take oath on Koran raises eyebrows

The question of what religious minorities use when taking the oath has been raised before.

ellison 88 (photo credit: )
ellison 88
(photo credit: )
There may be a few more cameras this year when Jewish lawmakers take their ceremonial oath of office next month. And they may be focused on what book the congressmen are using to swear upon. Keith Ellison, who will become the nation's first Muslim congressman next month, raised the eyebrows of some last week when he announced he would be using a Koran for the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony. One conservative Jewish commentator, Dennis Prager, said Ellison should use the Bible, because it is the United States' "holiest book." The question of what religious minorities use when taking the oath has been raised before. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) searched for a copy of the Hebrew Bible last year when she was sworn in for her first term, after refusing to use the Christian book provided by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. Wasserman Schultz eventually borrowed one from another Jewish congressman. A few weeks later, the American Friends of Lubavitch distributed the Hebrew Bible to Jewish lawmakers. They plan to do so again before the lawmakers are sworn in next year, and to provide one to the speaker's office. "It would be difficult to make somebody swear or affirm by on something they don't religiously identify with," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of Chabad's Washington office. "At the same time, one needs to ensure that what they do swear or affirm by doesn't contravene the constitution." He said legal experts should determine whether the Koran is in keeping with the Constitution. Incoming lawmakers do not place their hands on anything when they attend the official group swearing-in ceremony. It is only the ceremonial oath, done individually later in the day, where Bibles or other religious texts are brought out. The Anti-Defamation League, among others, has rebuked Prager, a frequent guest speaker for the Republican Jewish Coalition and Jewish federations in the United States. They called his comments "intolerant, ugly views." Prager is also a new member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council. The Council of American-Islamic Relations Monday asked for Prager to be removed from the panel. Prager was unavailable for comment. Congressional officials have said Ellison and other lawmakers can use the book of their choice for the swearing-in ceremony.