I Swear

by | Dec 1, 2006

I don’t often link to the National Review (in fact, I never have), but I’m compelled to do so today.

According to Think Progress, right-wing radio host Dennis Prager wrote a column earlier this week bitching about U.S. Representative-elect Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) intent to take his oath of office not on the Bible, but on the Koran. Ellison is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. Prager claimed this “act undermines American civilization,” and compared it to being sworn in with a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

Thankfully, Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law at UCLA, has a much more measured approach to the subject.

The U.S. Constitution is a multiculturalist document. Not in all senses, of course: It tries to forge a common national culture as well as tolerating other cultures. But it is indeed multiculturalist in important ways.

The Constitution expressly authorizes people not to swear at all, but to affirm, without reference to God or to a sacred work. Atheists and agnostics are thus protected, as well as members of certain Christian groups (like Quakers, who don’t believe in swearing oaths). Why would Muslims and others not be equally protected from having to perform a religious ritual that expressly invokes a religion in which they do not believe? Under the Constitution, all of them “are incapable of taking an oath on that book,” whether because they are Quakers, atheists, agnostics, or Muslims. Yet all remain entirely free to “serve in Congress.”

Presidents Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover (a Quaker) didn’t swear at all, but rather affirmed.

Clearly, knowledge of American history and the U.S. Constitution are not prerequisites for being a radio talk show host.

Maybe we can change that.