January 3, 2007  ·  Lessig

So Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the African American who is also the first Muslim elected to Congress, has decided to use a Quran owed by Thomas Jefferson for his swearing in — reminding Virginia, and I hope the nation, of the real American values that stand behind our Constitution. I’m eager to hear Congressman Goode’s views of President Jefferson.

  • three blind mice

    meh. this is a smelly political stunt.

    congressman-elect Keith Ellison is african-american. thomas jefferson bought, owned, and sold scores of african slaves.

    if ellison wanted to demonstrate “the real American values that stand behind our Constitution” he would refuse to put his hand on any religious icon when taking the oath of office.

    oh, happy new year to everyone!

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    How about Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man”?

    However, if the swearing of an oath requires surrendering oneself to a sacred object, then what happens if one holds nothing sacred? If ‘sacred’ implies faith, and one is without faith?

    What if laying hands upon a book means nothing, or actually represents a derogation from ones belief in reason and the scientific method?

    Should atheists then be held in contempt if they lay a hand on the Bible? Perhaps such logic escapes those who believe even atheists need every chance at salvation?

  • Alan

    And what would those values be, Lawrence?

    Subjugation of women? Execution of gays? Elimination of political freedom? Forced coversion of atheists to Islam (or death)? All of these are held out by the majority of muslim nations in the world as their real values based on the teachings of the Koran, the hadith, etc. as filling out the picture of their prophet Mohammed, in every detail of his life, as the ideal man. Ellison is using Jefferson’s Koran as a cheap political ploy and uninformed people like you fall for it – all because he is against Bush. Ellison has yet to take a non-equivocal stance against radical Islamist actions in the world.

    Cool! Blew your credibility again in one single post.

    Despite your continual efforts to paint a large portion of the population as bigoted, most conservatives believe strongly in freedom, being traditional liberals. That does not go as far as supporting a political movement that is against freedom…. like you clearly are doing here.

  • Allison

    Hi – just wanted to point out that Congressman Ellison is not “D-Minnesota”, he’s “DFL- Minnesota”. It stands for Democratic Farmer Labor party. We have our own special tradition of liberalism here in the great, white north! Here’s more on the DFL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Democratic-Farmer-Labor_Party

  • http://www.imran.ali.name Imran

    C’mon Alan – are you arguing that 1.6bn Muslims are *all* bigoted hatemongers? The actions and policies of Islamic nations are not always the choices of their citizens, any more than the actions of Western governments can be blamed on all Americans or Europeans.

    I think it’s wonderful that a country like the US can integrate all beliefs in it’s government. I love the idea that here in the UK four MPs and one member of the House of Lords are Muslim and Prince Charles has suggested that upon accession to the throne he’ll become Defender Of Faiths, rather than Defender of the Faith.

    Small symbolic steps like Ellison’s swearing in help – *really* help – people find commonality and shared culture.

  • Quila

    This is almost funny, since Jefferson was not exactly enamored of the Muslims. His main dealings with them (and probably the reason he had the Quran) was to stop the Muslim pirates from pillaging our ships and taking our sailors prisoner. He was against paying them tribute and ransom, and eventually went to war with the Muslims to have it stopped.

    Even then, the Muslims took advantage of our War of 1812 to resume their pillage and demands for tribute and ransom, until we finally ended it conclusively in the Second Barbary War (1815).

    Ellison effectively put his hand on a symbol of the historical strife between America and Muslim-run nations, and of America’s past victory over them in protection of its interests.

  • http://www.math.ntnu.no/~hanche/ Harald Hanche-Olsen

    Hm. The book in question is a translation. As far as I know, only the Arabic version is considered to be the true Quran. Any translation is not considered sacred, so you might think it would not be considered appropriate for the swearing in ceremony.
    If I ever had to be sworn in while holding a book, I think I would choose The origin of species. Not because Darwin is a saint or evolution sacred, but it would serve as a symbol of the unfettered search for truth, wherever it may lead.

  • James Day

    Quila, equating the Barbary pirates with all Muslims makes no more sense than talking about the Christians killing much of the native US American population. It’s not the religion, it’s the people, some of whom choose undesirable paths. Before talking about a religion specifically you should find a religious teaching advocating the action which is being followed by those of that particular sect. For example, some Christian sects could correctly be connected with homophobia, since they teach that homosexuality is wrong.

  • http://www.imran.ali.name Imran

    It’s simply inflammatory to conflate pirates of the first Barbary War with Muslims per se. They may have been Muslim, but that does not make all Muslims pirates.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    Harald Hanche-Olsen, believe it or not, I also thought of the Origin of Species as a potential candidate tome.

    However, I’m not sure it would actually be dignified by being the subject of a superstitious ceremony.

    I also thought of the Lord of the Rings – as good a fable as any.

    If I had to pick a spiritual book, perhaps the collected works of Carlos Castaneda.

  • Jim Carlile

    I laughed all last night when I heard this news about Jefferson’s Quran. It’s perfect. I didn’t notice any of the right-wing pundits say much about this tonight, probably because they’re still trying to figure out how to deal with it. I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

    Some of the anger expressed in these other comments clearly reflects frustration over the brilliance of this idea.

  • http://kalaf.space.live.com Greg B

    Sad to see the zenophobic American Christians bashing the other children of Abraham (again). Sadder still to see my atheist brethren dismissing the Quran and Islam in general. Muslims have a long tradition of being religious atheists (in the very best traditions of that term) and most are very progressive. The extremists of any faith (see fundamentalists) are the only threat.

    Personally I found it to be a stroke of genius. Now if he were to give his copy of the Quran to poor Jose Padilla I’d nominate for some sort of humanitarian of the year award.

  • Lessig

    Man, Alan. This is what comes from a nation afraid of talking about religion.

    No, the value I’m speaking about — remember, we’re talking about Jefferson, about a Congressman who would apparently condition your ability to be a congressman on your ability to swear an oath to “the Bible” — is the separation of church and state. The elimination of religious tests for citizenship, or for serving in a government. Ellison symbolizes those values perfectly when he uses Jefferson’s (one of the key architects of this separation) Quran to swear loyalty to the Constitution. It is in part because of Jefferson that the people of Elllison’s district have the right to elect him regardless of his religion. It is in part because of Jefferson that we all — conservative or liberal — ought to say that Goode should be ashamed of his anti-constitutional views. (Here’s where the small mind races to “but does that mean one can’t criticize the Constitution?” Of course it doesn’t. Criticize what was, and is wrong, in the Constitution. But do so honestly — recognizing that you are arguing to change tradition, not embrace it.)

    The fallacy Jefferson was fighting is exactly the one you make, Alan. To say that I believe in a Constitution that permits people of any faith (including no faith at all) to be a member of Congress is not to say that I share the beliefs of any particular faith. It is to say that the questions are seperate — the state doesn’t require a religious test; religion doesn’t require a state that enforces religious values. It is one of the most basic points about how our constitution is architected.

    And re the “cheap political ploy”? Are you kidding? It wasn’t Ellison who made his faith a national issue. It was Congressman Goode who did it. And do you think Goode did it because it was [whatever the opposite of a "cheap political ploy" is]? Come on. This is Terri Schiavo squared.

    But this is the line in your post that gets me the most:

    Despite your continual efforts to paint a large portion of the population as bigoted, most conservatives believe strongly in freedom, being traditional liberals. That does not go as far as supporting a political movement that is against freedom…. like you clearly are doing here.

    When did this conservative persecution syndrome (CPS for those in the know) begin? My criticisms were of a single congressman. Liberals and conservatives both should criticize his ridiculous statement. That conservatives don’t shows precisely the kind of uncritical thinking that characterized the Democrats when I was a (right-wing) Republican. Why is it so hard for a conservative to criticize a conservative who has violated conservative principles — as Goode plainly has? And why is a liberal’s criticism of a conservative “an effort[] to paint a large portion of the population as bigoted”?

    And again, finally, re: ” supporting a political movement that is against freedom…. like you clearly are doing here”: this is just a confusion. In addition to supporting the right of Minnesota to elect a Muslim, I also support the right of Virginia to elect Bush-Republicans to the US Congress. Does that mean I must support the policies of this Administration?

  • John

    Hey Alan, I’m with you. What a load of crap! Ellison’s also never taken a non-equivocal stance against poverty in Africa. Obviously this is empirical evidence that he supports poverty! And he’s black (sorry.. “African American”)! Such a heartless freedom hater shouldn’t be allowed to live in the United States, much less hold office! I don’t understand why all these stupid liberals can’t get it through their heads — the United States stands for freedom and democracy. If they want to elect Muslims into office let them all move to Afghanistan!

  • Patrick

    Larry, you are right-on! I can’t believe a conservative, who presumably embraces the right of anyone to practice their religion, and embraces strict construction of the constitution, would honestly think it would be permissible to disqualify a congressman because he/she was Muslim. It is un-American, un-patriotic, anti-conservative, and un-Christian!

    Furthermore, anyone who truly believes we are at war with Islam is truly misguided. We are at war with a militant faction that happens to be Muslim. Saying we are at war with Islam in the mid-east would be like saying Janet Reno waged war with Christianity in Waco, TX.

  • http://rantingattheboss.blogspot.com/ Jim Downey

    Firstly, I think it interesting that the Qu’ran used was owned by Thomas Jefferson. This provenance points to something that the Political and Religious Right do not want to openly discuss: some of our founders and framers were a lot more open to understanding and appreciating–even if only by way of acedemic curiosity–religious and spiritual traditions outside of mainstream Protestant Christianity.

    If we combine this little tidbit of history, combines with the debates that accompanied the development of the First Amendment, the Memorial and Remonstrance delivered to the General Assembly of Virginia by James Madison, and an accurate reading of the various Federalist Papers, we find a lot more religious tolerance in our founding days than we often see among the ultraconservatives engaging in the pseudo-culture wars of today.

    Secondly, I am disturbed by some of the more sarcastic and sardonic comments added to this post (i.e. “this is a smelly political stunt” and “Subjugation of women? Execution of gays? Elimination of political freedom? Forced coversion of atheists to Islam (or death)?”) that demonstrate an ignorance (or a scorning) of our history, our culture and the first principles and spiritual values embedded and embodied in our Constitution.

    Thirdly, I am impressed by the congressman’s commitment to his faith and office. In Islamic tradition, a Muslim that takes an oath on the Qu’ran will not be forgiven or given any mercy if that oath is not fulfilled. There was a time when an oath meant something in our society, especially when sworn on something held sacred. Today, however, oaths are scorned, ignored or viewed as a de facto procedure for obtaining a job. This scornful view of taking an oath is probably the reason so many military officers have not stood up for the Constitution in accordance with their oath of office by presenting legitimate questions about the conduct of our nation in Iraq. It is also probably the reason why so many congressman–senators and reps–failed to question the casting aside of basic hyman rights and guaranteed civil liberties when passing the USA Patriot Act, yacitly endorsing or condoning the violations of FISA, the failure to challenge so-called “signing statements” that circumvent the rule of law, etc.

    The scornful view of taking an oath may also be the root cause of the influence peddling/brokering that brought about the plague of scandals in congress, the White House, the SEC, the FCC, and the murders and conduct unbecoming by soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere.

    Given that 90% of our citizens in America report to have some spiritual and/or religious conviction, I would think that some modicum of respect for any belief system–including those that are pre-supposed to be based on empiricism–would be a norm for anyone claiming to be scholarly, well-educated, reasoned and measured.

    Foirthly, it never ceases to amaze me how many people living in the US–born to citizenship in where most people look for leadership in democracy (depite events and conditions to the contrary)–are ignorant of the history, the principles and the values that were embedded into our Constitution by men who were often bitterly embroiled in debate and conflict over making sure that the problems of autocracy, monarchy, theocracy and fascism were limited in scope and possibility by creating a form of government that guranteed certain rights. Are we becoming a nation so ignorant of our most sacred values that we will soon surrender our freedom as well as our first principles? I am concerned that we may soon see so many divisions and so many efforts to control the views, values and beliefs of others that the “great experiment” will fail. Since I stay in touch with a number of scholars from around the world I often receive e-mail expressing the same concerns from those on the outside looking in.

  • anna

    your websites are crappy, i mean, FRAMES?!?!?!?!

  • Jim Carlile

    Hey “anna” and “john:” are these responses the best you can come up with?

    Ah, the discomfiture of the Right, when faced with the incontrovertibles.

  • Quila

    You two are missing the point — it’s the symbolism. He was likely sworn in on a symbol of strife between the US and Muslim nations. The pirates weren’t just a few Muslims, but the governors and admirals of the Ottoman Caliphate (leader of the Islamic world).

  • http://lucychili.blogspot.com jh

    if the consitution is the document youre swearing to uphold should it not be the document you swear on? regardless of faith or other interests?

  • Stephen Roop

    Before getting too happy about Rep. Ellison, consider the recent Christopher Hitchens piece (Slate, January 9, 2007) on all this. If–I do say if–Hitchens is right, the Qu’ ran may be almost an irrelevance.

  • Guard

    this is for what Allan at the very beginning of these comments….
    Muslim Nations are compared to Catholics (plus many other variations of christians) and QURAN AND ISLAM is compared to christianity & Bible… i guarantee u have not even read one line of quran nor heard it (it almost inclueds all teachings of bible plus more)…
    How do u judge ISLAM & Quran and all muslims based on actions and words of those who “claim” they are muslims and use Islam for their own benefit and change word of god (allah) to keep their earthy power for while longer…. Research son…. research and research… be sure about what u say…. Maybe at the present time many of those countries who claim to be Islamic societies or governments are really not behind the scenes who knows……Islam is about peace …do u know what the first arabic phrase every muslim learns is??? بسم الله الرّحمن آلرّحیم (which means in the name of allah who is Merciful and the compassionate….. those who kill innocents for “any” reason or excuse are among those who will be sent to hell according to Islam in the judgement day….

  • Teklis Sesemar

    The Holy Quran was written in a tribal laguage. All Quran’s (Koran’s) are complete with the words passed on to the Prophet. It is a complete Sunnah. The highest Muslim position is Imam (teacher). Any books or statements that say it is Haddith or Sunnah from the Prophet are not Islamic. The Prophet is dead! The requirements to become a Muslim are following the laws of Moses, the actions of Abraham that are written in the Holy Quran along with all other commands of AL-Lah All is in the Holy Quran. Nowhere else. The Imam of a group of Muslims must come from the one who knows the Holy Quran best. When the Imam is finnished his teaching, each person should read his words from the Holy quran. We were blessed with a brain to understand. Should a Haddith or other Sunnah be used. Leave the Mosque and go to a quite place to read the Quran “only” Peace be with you.

  • http://vclosets.net 10 museum park

    Any possitive benefits associated with religion is overshadowed by the war and strife it has caused to humanity for centuries.