A pro-Islam group in Washington, DC, says a Jewish columnist's "bigoted and divisive" views should warrant his removal from a panel that oversees a Holocaust museum located in the nation's capital. The controversy centers around recent comments made by the journalist in reacting to an announcement by the nation's first elected Muslim congressman that he intends to use the Koran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony.
Columnist and talk-radio host Dennis Prager should be removed from the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the US Holocaust Memorial Museum — that's the opinion of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Why? Because in a column last week, Prager stated his opinion that Congressman-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim, should take his oath of office on the Holy Bible — not the Koran.
"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," wrote Prager. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
Continuing, the columnist wrote that "in your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. 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.
Since then, the columnist has offered up a solution he believes would satisfy most Americans: have Ellison bring a Bible with him along with his Koran.
"I have no problem with his bringing the Koran," Prager tells Associated Press, "[but] I have a problem with him denying the Bible its proper place. It's the first time since George Washington that someone has substituted a religious text for the Bible." The journalist adds that he seeks no laws to force use of the Bible in the ceremony, "but I do want public pressure on him to include the Bible."
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, says Prager's remarks display an intolerance toward Islam — and that the columnist should not insist that the nation's first Muslim congressman be sworn in on a Bible. "That excludes Muslims, it excludes Buddhists, Hindus, people in the Jewish community — and it violates the Constitution in terms of not having a religious test to hold public office," Hooper tells AP.
And such anti-Islam comments, says the CAIR spokesman, deserves appropriate consequences.
"Mr. Prager is a member of the council that governs the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington," notes Hooper, "and we believe that his continued presence on that council would be inappropriate for someone who holds such bigoted and divisive views.
"When you are appointed by the president to a council whose mission is to combat hatred and bigotry, and you hold views that promote hatred and bigotry, there's a problem there."
Prager, who is Jewish, dismisses CAIR as a small Saudi-funded interest group. "It's not exactly a dishonor to be vilified by CAIR," he says. "I believe that that's been a destructive organization that has hurt Muslim/non-Muslim relations in America."
And his call for the Bible to be used is not an issue of personal religious preference, he adds. "I'm a Jew — so the New Testament is not my Bible either. But the Bible… is what gave [America] its values, and I can recognize that even if it isn't entirely my Bible."
Congressman Ellison's campaign manager contends that Prager's premise is false. Dave Colling acknowledges that the incoming lawmaker from Minnesota would be the first to take the oath with the Koran "but most members do not even take an individual oath with any book," he tells the Washington Post. "Keith Ellison will be taking his oath in the chamber [en masse] with the other members of Congress." No Bible or other religious document is used for the oath at that time, says that report.
In addition, notes Colling in the Post, Mr. Ellison has not refused to take an oath on the Bible, because his refusal would imply that such a requirement exists.
When Theodore Roosevelt took his oath of office in 1901, he was the first and only president to do so without a Bible. Sixty years later, John F. Kennedy took his oath on a Catholic version of the Bible. And several Jewish members of Congress have taken their oath on the Torah.