Religious Tests

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Religious Tests

Keith Ellison (D-MN) is the first Muslim elected to public office, therefore instead of taking the oath to office with his hand on the Christian Bible, he wants to use the Koran.

Oh, the horror!

Via Carpetbagger, Dennis Prager proves, once again, that he is a total and complete stranger to reason.
He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
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. [Whaaaaaaaa? Did I miss a vote on this?]

Devotees of multiculturalism and political correctness who do not see how damaging to the fabric of American civilization it is to allow Ellison to choose his own book need only imagine a racist elected to Congress. Would they allow him to choose Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” the Nazis’ bible, for his oath? And if not, why not? On what grounds will those defending Ellison’s right to choose his favorite book deny that same right to a racist who is elected to public office?
When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization.
Carpetbagger, as always, deftly picks apart the sheer idiocy of Prager’s arguments and total lack of facts-- like the fact that not everyone swears on the Christian Bible or any religious text at all.

I think it's very telling that the example Prager uses about a self-identified Nazi taking the oath of office on Mein Kampf is that he seems more upset about the superficial, symbolic issue than the fact that people elected a Nazi. (I love Prager's equation of the Koran and Mein Kampf, he's such a subtle guy.)

Beyond how utterly stupid this nonexistent controversy is, or how much it smacks in the face of “no religious tests for public office,” what it clearly does have to do with is conformity via meaningless religious exercise. It's not as bad as it used to be in the US, but we still have weird pangs of it here and there.

This issue touches upon something that has truly irked and perplexed me for much of my life. If Prager actually thought about what he wants to happen— that Ellison take an oath on a Christian Bible, preferably a sizable stack— what does he think it will mean? I can’t help but wonder, to Prager and others like him, is going through the motions more important than doing something that has actual meaning? If an atheist or a Jew or a Buddhist swears on the King James, is that really preferable to having them swear on something that actually means something to them? (Granted there is the issue of swearing on religious texts at all.) Most quixotic of all is that Prager himself is not even a Christian, he is a Jew, probably the only Jew who doesn't have any issues with America as a Christian theocracy.

Maybe because I wasn’t raised in a religious household, was never forced to do anything religious that I didn’t want to do, I see this issue in a very different light. Considering that most people are raised doing such things without given a choice, so it might not stand out as problematic in the way that it does to me. But it's one thing for a person's family to want them perform religious acts or abide by religious traditions, it's another thing entirely for a secular government to demand or expect it of its elected officials. Not to mention that if we force our elected representatives to swear on a specific religious text what is to stop them from turning around and demanding that the rest of us do so as well?

It's just not right.

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