Multiculturalism, Dennis Prager, Keith Ellison, and Me:
I criticize Dennis Prager's Tuesday column in today's National Review Online. Here's the introduction:
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. We shouldn't forget that when we're tempted to categorically condemn supposedly multiculturalist changes to our constitutional practices.
Consider what Dennis Prager — whose work I often much like -— wrote in his most recent column:
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.
He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.
First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism — my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.
Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. 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. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. 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.
This argument both mistakes the purpose of the oath, and misunderstands the Constitution. In fact, it calls for the violation of some of the Constitution's multiculturalist provisions....
To read the rest, go here.
Thanks to my UCLA colleague Stephen Bainbridge, who alerted me to Prager's column and who has written more along these lines.
What the Koran Says Vs. What an Individual Muslim Is Likely To Do:
Commenter Cato, on the oaths thread, insists that Carthage must be destroyed, and also writes:
What if your religious book upon which an oath is taken requires the oath taker to lie, at least in certain cases?
Certain pundits maintain that the Koran REQUIRES Muslims to lie to non-Muslims about their intentions, particularly the intention of imposing sharia law.
I can't speak to the relevant text of the Koran, or to what certain pundits mantain. But say that the Koran does indeed say so in the text.
The fact is that many ancient religious writings seem to on their face mandate various things that we'd find quite troubling, and that most modern adherents of the religion would find quite troubling. Consider Leviticus, which says that the following (among others) "shall be surely put to death": "[E]very one that curseth his father or his mother"; adulterers; male homosexuals; and "he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD." Should we disqualify Jews, as well as Christians who purport to still see the Old Testament as largely authoritative, from high government office, on the grounds that they seem committed to massive violations of the First and Eighth Amendments?
Of course not, because we in fact know that even quite devout Jews and Christians don't really read these provisions as in fact mandating the putting to death of people who do the prohibited things. They may have textual reasons for their beliefs or extratextual. But in any case, our experience tells us that looking in isolation at particular passages in a person's holy books -- or considering the practices of extremists who ostensibly belong to the same faith as the person -- gives us little information about the person's actual lived beliefs, and what the person is actually likely to do. It seems to me quite likely that precisely the same is true about Muslims.
If you have reason to think that a particular person is especially likely to lie, that's of course reason to doubt his word, or to vote against him. But looking at some passage in the Koran doesn't tell us much about this.
Justice Arthur Goldberg Swore His Oath of Office on the Hebrew Bible:
Just thought I'd note that apropos my response to Dennis Prager.
Prager wrote that "for all of American history, Jews elected to public office have taken their oath on the Bible, even though they do not believe in the New Testament," and I realize that a Justice isn't an elected official. Nonetheless, Justices and elected officials are bound by the same oath-or-affirmation provision of the Constitution, and all federal officeholders are equally protected by the Religious Test Clause.
Dennis Prager and I on the Paula Zahn Show (CNN) Tonight:
Dennis Prager, another guest, and I are scheduled to be on CNN's Paula Zahn Show tonight some time starting around 8:20 Eastern, to talk about oaths of office and religion — or so I'm told; television appearances sometimes get canceled at the last moment.
John Quincy Adams' Oath of Office:
From a Washington Foreign Press Center briefing Donald R. Kennon, Chief Historian at the United States Capitol Historical Society:
There's an interesting thing about John Adams and John Quincy Adams -- they were both very religious men, and John Quincy Adams were so religious that he is one of probably only one or two American presidents who did not take the Oath of Allegiance on a Bible. Now, it's kind of ironic that John Quincy Adams, being such a religious man, would not have used the Bible, but he said that he thought the Bible should be reserved for strictly religious purposes. So he took the Oath of Office on a book of laws, the Constitution and American laws. That's really what he was swearing allegiance to was the Constitution, so he didn't use the Bible.
Thanks to reader Pennywit for the pointer.
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.