Keith Ellison of Detroit is the first Muslim elected to serve as a US Representative. When Ellison swore his oath of office using the Koran instead of the Bible, he sparked a flurry of outrage from Virginia US Rep. Virgil Goode and other Christians across the country.
As a Christian myself, I naturally want to see the Holy Scriptures (old and new Testaments) revered throughout the world, especially in America. The reality is that only Christians regard the Bible as the Word of God. The flap over Ellison’s oath ignores that reality.
What is the purpose of the oath of office? The Constitution mandates it in Article VI: “The Senators and Representatives…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation to support this Constitution…” The purpose, then, is to bind the conscience of the officeholder to support (obey and defend) the Constitution. The Bible is used in order to remind the oath-taker that God is a witness to the oath and will know if it is broken.
When the oath-taker is not a Christian, will placing his hand on the Bible impress him with the gravity of any commitment made in the oath? I doubt it. Doesn’t it make more sense for Ellison to solemnize his oath using what he actually does revere? Isn’t he more likely to remember the seriousness of the oath in that case?
Forcing a non-Christian to swear an oath on the Bible may even be unconstitutional. The same sentence quoted above from Article VI concludes with these words: “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The oath or affirmation is a requirement of the office. Requiring willingness to revere (or pretend to revere) the Bible looks like a religious test to me. Ironically, any Congressman who wants to impose such a test may be violating his own oath to support the Constitution.
What Americans ought to be concerned about is whether officeholders are actually honoring their oaths. Not to pick on Rep. Goode, who is after all one of the better members of Congress, but how well does he stand up to scrutiny on this point? I need only mention one vote: H.R. 6166 was the military tribunals bill that created a special class of accused persons whose rights to habeas corpus and other important constitutional protections are to be ignored. Goode needs to think about that egregious violation of his own oath before questioning the validity of Ellison’s, who after all hadn’t even cast a single vote in Congress at that point.
Violation of the oath of office is rampant throughout the three branches of the federal government. Let’s concentrate on ensuring that our officials understand the concepts of limited government embodied in the Constitution, and are committed to both the concepts and the constitutional law that implements those concepts. If using the Koran to solemnize his oath of office makes Rep. Ellison think twice before violating that oath, I’m all for it.