One of the arguments I make often in discussions of church and state issues involving Christian symbols or government endorsement of Christianity is that those who favor such things would almost certainly be the first ones to throw a fit if the symbols or the endorsement were of another religion. If a judge put up a monument to the Quran in his courthouse, all that talk we hear about such things being about “religious freedom” would disappear in a millisecond, replaced by pure outrage; such a judge would be fortunate to escape with his life, much less his job.
A perfect example of such hypocrisy is found in this column by Jan Markell at Worldview Weekend. She’s quite upset that Minnesota has elected a Muslim to the US Congress, and even more upset that – gasp! – he’s swearing his oath of office on a copy of the Quran instead of the Bible:
Ellison will be sworn in on a Koran. So now the Bible is equivalent to the Koran in the halls of Congress? Doesn’t this then mean he is pledging allegiance to Islamic Law (Sharia) rather than our Constitution? Where is the outrage here?
Stunning, isn’t it? If one of us secular humanist types suggested that a Christian, by swearing an oath on the Bible, was pledging allegiance to the Mosaic law rather than our Constitution, she would likely accuse us of religious bigotry. There is, of course, no requirement to place one’s hand on any alleged holy book when being sworn in to office. But one simply cannot make a coherent and rational argument that using one holy book means swearing allegiance to that book over our Constitution while the other does not.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that for someone like Markell, swearing an oath on the Bible does mean pledging allegiance to Biblical law over the Constitution. And that’s the most frightening possibility imaginable. That would mean theocracy rather than liberal democracy and it would mean the end of all notions of liberty.