Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Goring Religious Oxen

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.


  1. #1 Uber
    November 17, 2006

    The first thing we need to make rubes understand is that placing your hand on any given pile of paper to ensure your honesty is rather silly and the fact that adults find this requirement necessary is rather, well, odd.

    The second thing is people need to understand no matter what you where taught as a child the alleged ‘holy’ books are exactly the same as any other, paper. No more no less. Written by men in all their fallible glory.

    So the only thing that matters is will the fellow uphold the Constitution? I see no reason following this symbolic display he wouldn’t but as you mention I’m not so sure about the nutter writing the article.

  2. #2 jba
    November 17, 2006

    Ive always been bothered by political figures swearing on the Bible. But I also have the same problem with doing the same on the Quran or any ‘holy’ book for that matter. Aside from the obvious church/state issues, I would think it would make more sense to use the Constitution, seeing as how thats what they are supposed to be upholding, not religious law. Or they could just swear on their own personal honor, but I suppose that would mean even less.

  3. #3 Russell
    November 17, 2006

    I laughed at this part:

    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?

    Is she not concerned that a Congressman taking his oath on the Bible is pledging allegiance to Mosaic law rather than the Constitution? The hypocrisy in her complaint is stunning.

  4. #4 eric
    November 17, 2006

    Doesn’t this then mean he is pledging allegiance to Islamic Law (Sharia) rather than our Constitution?

    Uhh … no?

    Congressional Oath of Office:

    I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

    ( Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_office#United_States )

  5. #5 jba
    November 17, 2006

    I think its the “So help me God” thats the kicker for a lot of religious people. In their minds it supercedes everything else. I cant testify to it as fact, not being a mind reader, but thats what Ive gotten from the people Ive talked to about these kinds of things.

  6. #6 Sam the Librarian
    November 17, 2006

    How about we have them swear on what the Greeks required once upon a time, their testicles. (The origin of the word testimony). Guess what we can do if they break their vow and abuse their office? (I’m sure we can work out an alternate for the distaff side).

  7. #7 Jim Ramsey
    November 17, 2006

    I would think that the point is that the book used is supposed to give greater weight to the swearer of the oath. Ellison is placing his had on a book that has meaning for him. This is not magic. This is just Ellison, as a Muslim, making clear that he takes his oath very seriously.

    Imagine Joe Lieberman swearing his oath with his hand on a copy of the New Testament. Now imagine him doing the same thing with his hand on a copy of the Torah. Which of these actions (hopefully) indicates that Lieberman is serious about his position as a Senator? Which of these actions shows that Lieberman takes his constitutional oath seriously?

  8. #8 Tulle
    November 17, 2006

    Yes, in the halls of Congress the Bible is equivalent to the Koran. Or at least it should be. Do any of these people have brains????

  9. #9 John Horst
    November 17, 2006

    I read the article, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. It wasn’t all about bible vs koran. But the lack of reasoning and logic was stunning.

    But I also have to pray this is NOT the beginning of a trend where Islam makes more and more inroads into America by means other than the sword …

    Frankly, I am much more concerned with the inroads Christians have been making, lately. But the truth is that whatever race, sex, color, sexual orientation, religion, height, weight, hatsize, etc. the will of the American people see fit to elect into office, then that is just what the rest of us will have to live with.

    We’ve already seen what a mess the Christian right has been able to make. Maybe it is time for a change …

  10. #10 Kent
    November 17, 2006

    It would be more logical for congressmen to put their
    hand on a copy of the constitution while swearing the
    oath. :-)

  11. #11 Kate
    November 17, 2006

    Ok, I might be wrong here, but I thought that swearing on the Bible was supposed to be like saying “or may God strike me dead”. to wit, if I don’t keep the oath that I have just sworn to the best of my ability (telling the truth, an oath of office), I invite divine wrath.

    I think that the writer’s problem might lie in the fact that she believes that her God is true and other Gods are false, and therefore swearing an oath with support of another God is “cheating” because you won’t be punished in the same way for breaking it…

    Or is that too internally consistent for someone like this?

  12. #12 Quid
    November 17, 2006

    “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.”

    I disagree. She probably would agree. Isn’t that the problem with these nuts; they think this is a “Christian Nation” founded upon “Christian ideals”?

  13. #13 Chuck
    November 17, 2006

    “So help me God” is not even part of the oath. Those words are not in the text of the Constitution. They have been added by presidents according to their own preference.

  14. #14 bourgeois_rage
    November 17, 2006

    Next thing you’ll know Scientologist congressmen will want to swear on Dianetics. The outrage, the horror.

  15. #15 FishyFred
    November 17, 2006

    Come on Ed, that’s nothing. Haven’t you seen this clip of Glenn Beck asking Keith Ellison to prove to him that the Congressman-elect is not working with the enemy?

  16. #16 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 17, 2006

    I don’t get Christian outrage on this. They should support it shouldn’t they? What’s the alternative? Do they want Muslims to swear on the Bible, and if so, how would that make any sense? (Wouldn’t it open up comments about how the Muslim, who has no actual loyalty to this other religious holy book that he does not follow, could swear on the Bible and then go and betray the country without any twinges from his conscience?)

    I just wonder what an atheist skeptic would be required to swear on. The dictionary?

    I think they should take this opportunity to come up with the novel idea of pledging their life, fortune, and sacred honor rather than the diety of their choice. Now there’s something that no one ever thought of before.

  17. #17 trilobite
    November 17, 2006

    Read the whole article – her problem is not that he is swearing on the Q’aran, her problem is that he is a Muslim. She lumps together Muslims, Nation of Islam, and jihadists throughout the article, with a couple of lip-service references to the possibility that not all Muslims are like this. It’s a disgusting display of bigotry & xenophobia.

  18. #18 Darkrose
    November 17, 2006

    Hmmm. I’m a Wiccan. Would I have to swear on a copy of Spiral Dance?

  19. #19 RAHRules
    November 17, 2006

    I think I agree with the Greeks. I could give two sh*ts for ANY book of ANY religion, but I would NEVER voluntarily put my two little baby makers at risk.

  20. #20 kehrsam
    November 17, 2006

    I think I agree with the Greeks. I could give two sh*ts for ANY book of ANY religion, but I would NEVER voluntarily put my two little baby makers at risk.

    That is a thoroughly Biblical position! Recall that Abraham has his servant place his hand under his (ie, Abraham’s) thigh to swear an oath when he is sent to seek a bride for Isaac (Gen 24). From the context, it is pretty clear what he is doing. The NIV Bible Commentary merely notes, “The servant swore in the most solemn manner.”

  21. #21 Scott
    November 17, 2006

    Being a Minnesotan who is A) represented by Mr. Ellison and B) able to listen to Jan Markell’s radio program gets me close to both of these people. Last Saturday on her weekly program Markell and her two guests were horrified at the thought that a Muslim was going to be briefed by members of the United States Defense department regarding the situation in Iraq. They went on about it for a long time. The whole time I was listening, I was fighting a response to drive to the station and slap some sense into the idiots. Then I realized that they A) had no intelligence to kick into place and B) they also had no ability to think rationally.

    Markell is someone who considers herself an “expert” on “the end times”. Her politics are very radical right wing and she has guests that talk about all of the crazy things that the “Worldview Weekend” website likes to talk about. She recently organized a conference that included Joseph Farah as a speaker.

    I listen to the program on occasion. Although afterwards I usually need to give my mind a thorough cleaning or several episodes of Trek to keep from getting violent.


  22. #22 Monimonika
    November 17, 2006

    After reading Markell’s article and reading through some of the comments, I was inspired to write the following in response. However, I’m not sure if it would be allowed to stay and I also suspect that it might not get much feedback there. So, I’ll try here first so I can get a critique (and maybe some suggestions to improve on it).

    Enjoy (for some fun, try to identify the historical references I made):

    A Muslim in Congress!? That’s an obvious security risk! Don’t voters know that Islam is tyrannical, encourages its followers to lie for the glory of Allah, and calls for the destruction of all other beliefs, including the American Way of Life? (The American Way of Life, by the way, is essentially Christian because American values and laws are based almost exclusively upon Christian values and laws.)

    There should be a law stating that no Muslim can hold governmental office, for obvious reasons that I don’t need to expand upon. We just can’t trust them in such influential positions (they might ignore our Christian concerns!). But wait, what about those Muslims who have infiltrated into positions in the corporate sphere of our glorious US economy? They could try to destroy us from that angle! (Remember, Muslims are not loyal to the US of A.) If the US economy goes down, so will the funding to our troops fighting the good fight in Iraq and to the support of our American Way of Life.

    That’s it, expand that law a bit more to keep Muslims out of corporate jobs. Oh, and also out of jobs at places like KMart or in garbage disposal. Can’t trust those Muslims in handling our daily essentials, and imagine what they might exploit from the trash we throw out! They just can’t be trusted.

    In fact, they’re so untrustworthy that we shouldn’t be letting them roam freely around this country of ours. Without constant supervision they might, no, WILL commit acts of terrorism while in the guise of an American citizen (citizenship which they revoked when they turned their back on Christ and America). To make supervising them practical, we should have all of the Muslims rounded up into fenced-in communities or “camps”. We believe in the fundamental rights given to all men by God, so the Muslims will be treated with dignity by Christian (therefore trustworthy) supervisors, who will teach them the soul-saving lessons of Jesus Christ and demonstrate the Christian Love that we are so famous for to them. And if they happen to open their hearts and minds and accept Jesus, they can be let out and become true Americans.

    The choice, which we will not force, is all up to them (we believe in Free Will, after all). They can either choose to become true Americans or be free to continue practicing their misguided faith within the fenced-in community, which of course will be equal in all ways to communities outside said fence. (Except they won’t be allowed to vote. You know, being non-Americans and a security threat on top of that. Oh, and they can’t travel outside the community, either. Again, threat to security and all that.)

    Ooh, but I almost forgot, Muslims are liars. The ones who claim that they converted to Christianity may just be lying so that they can get out of the community and terrorize the rest of us for the glory of Allah. To combat this potential risk, we should make them pass a test to make sure that they really did abandon Islam. I know! Let’s have them draw a copy of a picture of the “prophet” Muhammad! Yes, use their silly fundamentalist beliefs against them! Absolutely brilliant idea, if I do say so myself.

    But we must always stay ever-vigilant. If a Muslim in this country is identified outside these government(and God!)-sanctioned Muslim communities, the Muslim should be reported, captured, and sent to one of the communities before he/she can threaten our American Way of Life. Since we Christians, unlike Muslims, are taught by Jesus to not lie, reports from Christians in identifying Muslims can be trusted without wasting our money and time with courts and trials. The saved money and time can be spent supporting our troops and praying for complete victory in Iraq.

    Who’s with me in protecting our country and our freedom to practice our religion in the way our country’s God-fearing Fore-fathers originally envisioned? We must take action, now!

    [The above was inspired by Jan Markell’s Worldview Weekly article and the 11/16/06 comments by:

    10:02:24AM Age 78, MO
    09:50:39AM Age 60, DE
    08:45:37AM Age 61, FL

    in the feedback section for said article, as well as some examples of religious, ethnic, and idealogical persecution.]

  23. #23 Richard Wein
    November 18, 2006

    Do followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have a holy book I could swear on if I’m called to testify in court?

    (Oh dear. I can no longer use the word “testify” without chuckling to myself.)

  24. #24 bybelknap
    November 18, 2006

    I am a very bad person. I actually subscribe to the WWVWeekend thingy email newsletter… usually I read the rabid ramblings of those very silly people and do a Rev Lenny Flankian [shrug], but for some reason this one really fried my bacon. So I responded. Maybe a little over the top. But I did get one of them to ask gawd to have mercy on my soul. I’m called “45 from PA”. So far, I have two people sticking up for me. One on Article 6 grounds and the other on the ‘Don’t judge or you might get judged yourself’ platform.
    It’s nice that we got rid of Sanctorum and “Sherwood the Strangler” from PA, but they were replaced by gentlemen who are also themselves rather religious, and they did some fairly egregious pandering. I want the day to come when us church burnin ebola boys have some politicos pandering to our lack of faith.

  25. #25 slavdude
    November 19, 2006

    Minnesota voters also reelected a Hindu to their state legislature. Here is the concession email sent by his Christian opponent (including a statement that amounts to suggesting that Chaudary is going to Hell):


    Nice, huh?

    How about Glenn Beck’s statement to Ellison that he has to prove that he (Ellison) is not working for the enemy?


    Sorry, I can’t find the YouTube link to this exchange.

  26. #26 Skemono
    November 19, 2006

    slavdude, it’s not a YouTube video, but Media Matters has the clip on their website.

  27. #27 MattXIV
    November 20, 2006

    “it would make more sense to use the Constitution”

    I’m not so sure – for that to work, our congresscritters would actually need to respect the Constitution.

  28. #28 PJ
    November 20, 2006

    I’ve always loved the irony that there are a couple of fairly strong Biblical passages that speak against the giving of such hand-on-Bible oaths.

    James 5:12 is best: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”

    This is the “let your yes be yes” rule, and it makes a lot of sense. If there was a God, it’d be grossly presumptuous to use him as an underwriter of your own activities; to invoke him like he had nothing better to do than shore up your promise to do your job properly, or whatever.

    So once again, conservative Christians’ theology is so far warped that it turns right around on itself. And they never, ever seem to spot the irony. Maybe they just never read their damn Bibles. Too busy waving them at people, I suppose.

    Of course, there are a fair number of contradictory Bible passages, which seem to favor/demand oaths: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/oaths.html But hey, does anyone really expect consistency from “Holy” books any more?

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