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Words from the Becket Fund,

a leading Religion Clauses public interest firm that is usually seen as coming from the Right, though they represent a wide range of litigants:

"Requiring somebody to take an oath of office on a religious text that's not his" violates the Constitution, said Kevin Hasson, president of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Andrea Stone, USA Today, Dec. 1, 2006.

Ex-Fed (mail):
Now you're just bouncing the rubble.
12.1.2006 2:38pm
Hans Gruber:
I confess, I haven't followed this except for skimming his column and your response, but was Prager suggesting Ellison had no legal right to choose the Koran? I didn't think that was his point.
12.1.2006 3:11pm
Jiminy (mail):
Hans, I thought that was *exactly* Prager's point - that the US determined you must swear on the US's choice of text, the King James (I think) bible, and instead EV is explaining that you swear your oath to country / Constitution and NOT the King James B.
12.1.2006 3:36pm
Patrick:
Prager made it clear today on his radio show that he does not think there should be a legal requirement for taking the oath on the Christian Bible. Perhaps it is difficult to conceive of the issue in other-than-legal terms.
12.1.2006 3:40pm
Realist Liberal:

Prager made it clear today on his radio show that he does not think there should be a legal requirement for taking the oath on the Christian Bible. Perhaps it is difficult to conceive of the issue in other-than-legal terms.


I wonder (pure speculation and nothing more) if this was partly because of the fact that Prof. Volokh absolutely skewered any potential argument that would be based on the law or Constitution.
12.1.2006 3:45pm
Jiminy (mail):
Oh, so this is a simple moral issue then? I missed that in the reading, I guess. I read the statement again, and I think you are right, Hans and Patrick. He is stating that it undermines American civilization. A civilization built from the deliberate cherry picking of traditions, language, and cultures of other nations before her...

Is it too simple to say that his point is : Americans are always seen as swearing on bibles throughout culture, so your choosing of something other than the usual is an attack on the culture?

I say throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. If it works for you and doesn't encroach on me, go for it. That is my own American opinion.
12.1.2006 3:47pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Prager made it clear today on his radio show that he does not think there should be a legal requirement for taking the oath on the Christian Bible. Perhaps it is difficult to conceive of the issue in other-than-legal terms.
Prager is either incapable of expressing himself, or he's lying, or both. He wrote (quoting his column from Eugene's first post):

"He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization."

He repeats the word "allow" numerous times in his column. Who allows or disallows what an adult can do, other than the government?
12.1.2006 3:51pm
Steve:
Imagine the incoherency of Prager's reconstituted point. The act undermines American civilization, but we shouldn't do anything to legally prohibit it. What an oddly nuanced position.
12.1.2006 3:52pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
There's nothing wrong with saying that something undermines American civilization but we shouldn't do anything to legally prohibit it -- advocacy of certain evil philosophies fits that bill easily.

But in the end it doesn't matter whether he was making a legal or prudential point: Eugene's counterargument, while it used the Constitution, was more than just legal. The Religion Clauses are not only a constitutional command; they also reflect the history of religious freedom in America.

And the historical stuff that Eugene went through shows, all by itself, even without any Constitutional text, why the Bible isn't foundational for oaths, why Quakers and atheists shouldn't have to swear on anything, and more generally why anyone should be able to swear on anything that he personally believes makes his oath binding.
12.1.2006 4:02pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The act undermines American civilization, but we shouldn't do anything to legally prohibit it.

This could be said of any number of changes of customs and traditions. Sometimes they ought to be retained for tradition sake; sometimes it has become time to retire them. (Finding examples of both kinds is left as an exercise for the reader.) Nothing wrong with noting the change, nor with noting the change with mixed emotions.
12.1.2006 4:14pm
Steve:
Ok, but he said it undermines American civilization to a greater extent than the attacks of 9/11. Surely it makes no sense to say that an act which is more harmful to America than the 9/11 attack shouldn't even be legally prohibited.
12.1.2006 4:53pm
Hans Gruber (www):
Steve,

Not if you view the greatest dangers to American civilization as coming from within (not that I am defending Prager's over-the-top position, which also seems to rely on a a lot of bad history).
12.1.2006 5:39pm
Steve:
Again, what I am asking for is a defense of the proposition that something which supposedly undermines American civilization to a greater extent than the attacks of 9/11 should not be legally prohibited.

If you want to argue, for example, "gay marriage is a bigger threat than al-Qaeda," be my guest. But it's irrelevant, because the people who believe such a proposition don't simultaneously argue that gay marriage should be permitted by law!
12.1.2006 5:45pm
Hans Gruber (www):
What Prager actually said in comparison to 9/11 was:

"If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11."

Which is actually correct because the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 was a moment of great unity. His argument is flawed on a number of levels, no need to misrepresent what he was actually saying. Further, it does not appear that he made any arguments as to the right of Ellison to choose the Koran as a legal matter.
12.1.2006 5:49pm
Hans Gruber (www):
Sorry that I didn't precisely address your point, Steve. Still, I think it's obvious what Prager thinks the law should be, yet that does not mean he is under the impression that the law is actually that way. So, in the form of your example, a citizen of Massachusetts may think that gay marriage is of greater danger than al qaeda while also recognizing that gay marriage is legal in his state despite his personal feelings to the contrary. Maybe Prager is saying more than that, maybe he thinks Ellison should be free to choose even if that choice has grave consequences. Which, as you point out, would be a peculiar position, but not one that is necessarily patently irrational.
12.1.2006 6:02pm
Ex-Fed (mail):
I think it is entirely possible to simultaneously say that something hurts and betrays America and say that it should not be prohibited. But I think that it's hard to interpret Mr. Prager's initial column that way -- there are too may instances of "allow" and "America decides." At the very most charitable, it is deliberately opaque on whether he is proposing the current existence of a legal prohibition. He is, after all, supposed to be a professional wordsmith.
12.1.2006 6:10pm
Steve:
Still, I think it's obvious what Prager thinks the law should be, yet that does not mean he is under the impression that the law is actually that way.

This line of discussion was prompted by the statement that Prager said on his radio show that he didn't think the law "should" prohibit swearing on the Koran.
12.1.2006 6:24pm
John Kindley (mail) (www):
I realize there have been several posts on the subject of oath-taking here and I haven't read all of them, but my perhaps erroneous understanding was that people have a constitutional right on Religious Clause grounds to refuse to take ANY oath prior to testifying as a witness in court, and could substitute a simple affirmation instead. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), of whom I have been a member for a little over a year, have a long tradition and testimony against the swearing of oaths, based upon the specific injunction of Jesus in the Gospels and on the recognition that we always have a religious duty to speak the truth, whether we are speaking in court, the marketplace, or elsewhere.
12.1.2006 6:29pm
John Kindley (mail) (www):
I just read Eugene Volokh's column in National Review online and see that he made the very points I just make above. It's quite amazing to me that Dennis Prager would hold a view that is so obviously wrong.
12.1.2006 6:44pm
Hans Gruber (www):
"This line of discussion was prompted by the statement that Prager said on his radio show that he didn't think the law "should" prohibit swearing on the Koran."

Again, Prager wrote it was more dangerous to American unity and American values. That's not the same thing as safety and security. It wouldn't be crazy to believe that the issues concerning unity and values should be resolved without government coercion, while the issues of safety and security require the use of force and government coercion.
12.1.2006 6:53pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It is unfortunate that the Becket Fund would be seen as coming from the Right.

Becket intervened in a lawsuit in my county that I covered, and while I am an atheist who holds considerable animus for the way I was treated by conservative Christians while I was growing up in the South; and while Becket's founder's personal religious beliefs sound (at a cursory level) like those of a conservative Christian, the fund would properly be described as 'coming from the American concern for equality under the law.'

Becket defends Muslims, Santeria and Orthodox Jews, and does a pretty good job for all of them.
12.1.2006 10:59pm
markm (mail):
"Again, what I am asking for is a defense of the proposition that something which supposedly undermines American civilization to a greater extent than the attacks of 9/11 should not be legally prohibited."

IMO, Prager's statements on this subject are something that undermine American civilization, although not to a great extent, yet should not be legally prohibited.

The advocacy of Communism is something that undermines American civilation more deeply than anything else I can think of, and yet it also should not be legally prohibited.
12.2.2006 9:09am
kentuckyliz (mail) (www):
The purpose of swearing an oath is that a person is making a solemn promise or covenant that is very serious and perhaps not possible without God's grace. To swear on the Bible or other religious document is to say, "God help me fulfill this promise, and if I fail, may God hold me accountable." One is pledging one's conscience.

Sure, let the Muslim take his oath using the Koran and swearing upon Allah. After all, we should trust that, since Muslims are fatalistic "Allah's will be done" and accept Allah choosing to strike people dead. --I don't really mean that, I'm just being hyperbolic.

I'm not running for office, but if I were swearing an oath, it would violate my conscience to swear upon the KJV. It is an incomplete Bible written by a government committee. I'm not going to swear to perform my office according to my conscience and binding myself to God 80% of the time. I'm not going to swear as a witness in a court to tell 80% of the truth. I'll bring my own COMPLETE Bible that isn't missing any books. If that results in contempt of court charges, so be it. I would expect the Becket Fund to come to my aid, too.

Re Quakers and atheists, being unwilling to swear an oath leads to other people not trusting them. One can pledge one's own word but that is not nearly the same level of gravity as the "I swear...so help me God" oath. The Quakers absolutize one Scripture, just as the Holiness people do in the Gospel of Mark and handle snakes as a result. I don't have to respect that mistreatment of Scripture.
12.2.2006 9:16am
IBM (mail):
I have no problem with folk taking their oath of office of their preferred sacred text or none at all. What I do have a problem with is meaningless declarations. Keith Ellison could for instance swear on the Koran and at the same time have an enormous "King's X" in the form of the practice of Taqqiyah(sp?). It needs to be recognised that this is a possibility and it must be made clear to the individual making such an oath that whatever their religious confession permits they have made a legally binding promise to the nation and will be prosecuted if they fail to live up to it.
12.2.2006 6:35pm