A recent article by Dennis Prager is a prime example of why I no longer consider myself a Republican and consider myself outside of the current conservative movement. I would like to lay out for you why I believe he is dead wrong, and show the history of oaths and affirmations in a different light.
Dennis Prager says a Muslim elected to Congress should not take the oath on the Koran. Not only that, but he says allowing it is un-American.
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.
He should not be allowed to do so – not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
What? America was built on religious tolerance. Though I have my qualms with some of the religious leaders of Islam, primarily abroad, if a Muslim wants to swear his oath to defend and protect the United States of America on the Koran, he should be allowed to. It is his Holy book.
The purpose of using a Holy book to swear oaths is to be held accountable. It makes you accountable to a higher authority. Namely God. If you believe in God, and you promise, declare, and swear in the presence of your God to serve your country you are swearing to the highest authority. If there is anyone that you will want keep your oath to, it should be God above all else. In other words, If you are to be held accountable to anyone, God should be the one you are most accountable to.
To say that it undermines American civilization is, if not bigotry, then it is supreme ignorance of the Constitution.
Article 6 of the Constitution says regarding oaths: Emphasis given
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.
If no religious test is required, where did the idea of swearing the oath of office on a Bible come from?
The whole tradition of swearing on the Bible goes back to when George Washington, a Freemason, was preparing to be sworn into office. Washington, along with many others in the ceremony, were prominent Freemasons and they thought it appropriate to swear the oath of office on a Bible, in a similar fashion to how it is done during ceremonies in Lodge. The nearest Bible that could easily be retrieved was a Bible owned by St. John's Lodge #1. That was the Bible that started the tradition of swearing on the Holy Book.
Many Presidents have used that same book. Some have used other Bibles. Some Presidents, such as Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, did not swear on the Bible at all. The used no book and instead used the word Affirm; in accordance with their Quaker faith which prohibits swearing of oaths.
I believe that Prager's column, and the support of many right wing pundits of it, shows an attitude of religious intolerance and some selective reading of the Constitution. They believe that we are foremost a Christian nation. Though most people in this country who consider themselves God fearing are Christian, we are not a country that endorses any religion. It is in the Constitution. It was one of the founding beliefs of our founding fathers. The first of the Bill of Rights lays it out. Emphasis added.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This is just one argument against Dennis Prager's viewpoint. There are many others for and against. But next time you see an oath of office and you see someone swear on the Bible, I want you to have a little historical perspective on what they are doing, and why it came about.