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Religious Test for Muslim Congressman?

Talk about an inconvenient truth. It’s right there. In black-and-white. Article VI—that’s “six” for you public school kids—of the United States Constitution:
 
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both 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.”
 
Now as far as I can tell, said Constitution—which, public school kids, is the supreme law of the land—does not say that such oath or affirmation must be made while holding one’s hand on a Bible, let alone which version of the Bible should be used. To the contrary, the Constitution is pretty specific about there being “no religious test” required in order to serve as a member of Congress.
 
So it would seem to me that to require an incoming member of Congress to take his or her oath with his or her hand placed firmly on a particular religious book is nothing but a religious test and, therefore, patently unconstitutional. Imagine that. An unconstitutional requirement foisted upon someone being asked to swear allegiance to the Constitution. Talk about irony.
 
In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is all about Keith Ellison. Mr. Ellison is a Democrat from Minnesota who was elected to the House of Representatives last month. Mr. Ellison is also the first practicing Muslim elected to Congress, and rumors abound that he intends to take his oath of office with his hand placed firmly on a copy of the Koran instead of the Bible. And this is causing many a “Maalox moment” for many Christian-Americans.
 
“He should not be allowed to do so,” declares columnist Dennis Prager, “not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.”
 
Undermines American civilization? Gimme a break. If anything’s undermining American civilization, it’s the public school system. Not to mention all the elected officials who, once seated, ignore the Constitution and oath they took regardless of which Bible they swore on.
 
For a little non-divine guidance on this subject, let’s go to one of our Founders. According to “Don’t Know Much About History,” it was Thomas Jefferson himself who “famously wrote that it made no difference to him whether his neighbor affirmed one god or twenty, since ‘it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’”  With an attitude like that, it’s hard to imagine the Father of the Declaration of Independence would give a whip which religious book someone uses to affirm his loyalty to the Constitution on.
 
Nevertheless, Prager prattles on: “What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.”
 
Well, um, yeah. What part of “no religious test shall ever be required” doesn’t Monsieur Prager understand? And where does it say in the Constitution that the Bible, let alone which version of the Bible, is the official “holiest book” in the nation? I can’t seem to find such a designation in my copy.
 
“Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is,” Prager writes, as though “favorite book” is the same as one’s chosen religious book. “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.”
 
No, Dennis. When it comes to administering the government of the United States of America, the Constitution is our bible, not the Bible. That’s why members of Congress are required to swear allegiance to the Bill of Rights, not the Ten Commandments.
 
Mr. Prager sums up his rant with: “Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.”
 
Umm, no again. Where in the Constitution does it say that one must take the oath of office on ANY book, let alone Mr. Prager’s “favorite book”? And again, wouldn’t a requirement that someone take the oath of office on one particular religious book be a “religious test” which would be, on its face, unconstitutional?
 
Sorry, Mr. Prager. “America” doesn’t get to decide “on what book its public servants take their oath.”  This isn’t a matter up for public referendum. The Constitution decides questions such as this. And at the risk of repeating myself repeating myself, the Constitution stipulates the use of no particular religious book in taking the oath of office, let alone the Bible. To do so would be—and again I apologize for being so redundant, but some people are what we call back in my neck of the woods “thick”—an unconstitutional religious test for holding office.
 
In any event, this entire argument is moot because NO ONE takes the oath of office in Congress with their hand placed on ANY religious book of ANY kind, including the Bible. Members of Congress, unlike the president, are sworn in as a group—raising their right hands and repeating collectively the oath of office as prescribed by…get this…the Constitution. That oath is as follows:
 
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
 
The problem today which is undermining American civilization is that all but a handful of our elected representatives—regardless of which religious book they use or don’t use to swear “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution—simply ignore said oath once in office. When you can swear allegiance to the Constitution and then turn around and vote for something so blatantly unconstitutional as, say, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, your oath—whether administered on a Bible, the Koran or a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—is worthless.
 
Americans should worry less about which book public officials swear on and more about public officials who break said oaths once taken.

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Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach.

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