Ellison's Jeffersonian values
Sacramento Bee: Newly elected Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was officially sworn in with the rest of Congress on Thursday, and the American Republic did not fall. Moreover, he later had a private, ceremonial swearing-in where he used Thomas Jefferson's Quran from 1764. It was a brilliant move showcasing this nation's commitment to religious toleration from its beginnings.
It was Jefferson who praised diversity of religion, writing in 1782 that uniformity of religious opinion was no more desirable than uniformity in facial features and height. In describing the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom, Jefferson wrote that references to Christianity were rejected because the delegates meant to include "within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
Others in history
When John Quincy Adams, a deeply religious man, was sworn in as president in 1825, he deliberately chose to take his oath of office on a book of the Constitution and American laws, believing the Bible should be reserved for strictly religious purposes. Theodore Roosevelt used no book at all at his 1901 presidential swearing-in.
Yet before his swearing-in, Ellison faced criticism even from Congressman Virgil Goode, who, ironically, represents the Virginia county where Jefferson was born. Goode denounced Ellison and raised the specter of "infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion."
Ellison took it all in stride, saying, "When I'm officially sworn in, I will do it the same exact way as every other congressperson-elect who was sworn in. We will all stand up and in unison lift our hand and swear to uphold that Constitution, and then later, in a private ceremony, of course I'll put my hand on a book that is the basis of my faith, which is Islam."
Why would anyone expect a person to take an oath -- or be coerced to take an oath -- on a book not of his or her own faith? Ellison expressed thanks that the controversy has "made people dust off their Constitution and actually read it."