The Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association (AFA) is so worked up over newly elected U.S. House member Keith Ellison’s plan to take the oath of office on the Koran it has proposed a federal law requiring members of Congress to swear on a Bible.
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, won office Nov. 7. He is the first Muslim elected to Congress, and his plan to swear the oath on a Koran drove some Religious Right groups into a state of hysteria.
In late November, Dennis Prager, a right-wing radio talk show host, penned a column that appeared on many Religious Right Web sites. Prager opined, “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. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.”
Prager asserted that members of Congress might soon swear on copies of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and called Ellison’s decision “damaging to the fabric of American civilization.” He also insisted that allowing Ellison to swear on a Koran would “embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones.”
Wildmon’s AFA distributed the column Nov. 28 and followed it with a plea to supporters to contact Congress and ask “your U.S. Representative and Senators to pass a law making the Bible the book to be used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators.”
Wildmon failed to mention that such a law would be patently unconstitutional. Nothing in the Constitution requires public officials to swear the oath of office on a Bible. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution deals with the oath of office for president only. It includes the text of the oath but says nothing about Bibles. It permits the president to swear the oath of office or affirm it.
President George Washington swore the oath of office on a Bible, and most presidents since have followed that custom. Most House members and senators do the same, but it is not required.
Not every member of Congress has used a Bible to take the oath. Roll Call newspaper reported that House members go through two ceremonies. All members are sworn in en masse by the speaker of the House when new Congresses are seated. No Bibles are present at this ceremony.
Members then have the option of taking part in a private ceremony that is often used as a photo opportunity. Many members use personal Bibles during this ceremony, but it is not required. In January of 2005, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) used a copy of the Tanakh.