Monday, December 04, 2006

Constitutional basis of sworn oaths to office.

This is actually quite simple, but it seems to be an uproar these days. When Keith Ellison, the recently elected Muslim from Minnesota to the House of representatives stated he would take his oath of office on the Koran, you would have thought America was doomed. Dennis Prager had a lot to say about it, and most recently, so did Congressman Virgil Goode.

Mr. Prager states in his article, "
But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath." Is that so? And is not Mr. Ellison an American? He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. How much more American can you get than being from Motor City? So already, Mr. Prager has given permission to Mr. Ellison to swear his oath on the Koran though Mr. Prager thinks he should not be allowed to do so.
Mr. Goode was simply floored that a Muslim was elected to Congress. In his letter to a Sierra Club member he stated,

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

What is so amazing to me is the level of ignorance of those who stand by these views. One is indeed an elected Republican Representative of the state of Virginia. The other is a columnist for a right wing blog. And beyond the obvious racism and the fear, is a complete lack of understanding of the history of our country.

First, let's look at the statement by both men regarding the traditional beliefs and values that they think America was founded on. To both Prager and Goode, it is their belief that those values and beliefs are based on the Bible. But yet in 1797 our government made this statement in a treaty with a Muslim country: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...." This treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of the earliest of conservatives, and was ratified by Congress. Apparently the wording of this treaty didn't bother them in the least, and stands in direct contradiction to what Prager and Goode believe. Hence we have a Constitution that never mentions God. Mr. Jefferson stated,

"To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own." --Thomas Jefferson: Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779. ME 2:302, Papers 2: 546


"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

Our history demonstrates that America was designed to be a secular nation which was the best guarantee of all men to follow the dictates of their conscience, and prevent meddling in either direction between the government and the religious choices of it's people.

Secondly, and to the core of this issue, is what does the Constitution say about oaths to office? The Traditional Values Coalition wants it's readers to think that oaths are to be taken on the Bible. But the Constitution, even in the article the TVC mentions, does not say that. Regarding the oath of Congresspeople, the Constitution says in Article 6,

"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."

Notice the language. It specifically states that an oath to support only the Constitution will betaken. It also sates that no religious test will ever be required. So in direct contradiction to Mr. Prager, who thinks that if Mr. Ellison can't swear an oath on a Bible he shouldn't be allowed to serve in Congress, the Constitution merely states they shall take an oath. In fact, when Representative Dennis Hastert took his oath, his hand was on the podium, not a book of any kind.

And what does the Constitution say about Presidential oaths? Article 2, Section 1 says,

"Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' "

That is it in it's entirety. It does not say "So help me God," as we are so apt to hear. That is merely optional. Like the Congress, the president is only sworn to protect the Constitution. Nothing else. And again, no mention of where to put your hands.

This concludes today's tour of the Constitution and it's matters regarding taking oaths of office. As we've seen, the several right wing elements of the current "conservative" movement have it all wrong. They are promoting at the very least misinformation intended to deceive Americans as to the nature of our country as well as what the responsibilities of our elected officials are. The only responsibility related to taking the oath of office is to swear to protect the Constitution. A Constitution which was developed to allow all men the right to practice their own religion. That includes Muslims, much to Mr. Goode's chagrin.

And yes Mr. Prager, America does get to decide. And they did a long time ago. The Constitution of the United States of America, definitely being American, does not restrict Mr. Ellison, an elected American citizen, from taking his oath of office on any book he considers his scripture. Public opinion, even of a vocal, bigoted minority, does not matter in this case. Your statement Mr. Prager, was correct. Your support for it is dead wrong.


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