A Rare Thing

I rarely disagree with Dennis Prager (although I’ve broken with him about abstinence and the death penalty in the past).

Less often still do I agree with Keith Ellison.

So mark your calendars; Ed and I are with Ellison on his current flap about taking his oath of office on the Quran.

Ed recaps some of the discussion we had on the NARN last Saturday:

Prager, who usually gets it right, got this issue spectacularly wrong. He wrote that any Congressman not willing to swear an oath on the Bible should not serve in Congress, and that the American fabric would suffer its worst damage since 9/11 if Ellison used the Qur’an instead of the Bible. This is utter nonsense. In the first place, the entire issue is somewhat moot since members have one ceremony where they all take the oath of office as a group on the floor of the House. The rules of the House, furthermore, allows for the use of an “affirmation” for those choosing not to swear their oaths as a religious preference — which demonstrates that America does have a tradition of tolerance for the needs of other religions in its processes. Quakers in particular take advantage of that option, although Richard Nixon swore his oath when elected as President.

Besides, if using a religious text for an oath has any significance at all — and our experience with courts and politics strongly suggests there isn’t much — one would suppose that it would have to be a religious text with significance to the person swearing the oath. Atheists would not feel bound by the power of Divine retribution if they swore their oath on the Bible and then broke it later. Similarly, Christians would not feel much responsibility for protecting the honor of the Qur’an if they swore their oath on that text. Why wouldn’t we want Ellison to swear his oath on the one religious text he holds sacred, if we want him to feel some responsibility for acting in its defense by fulfilling his oath?

If I were to swear an oath on the Quran, would it be worth the air I spent saying the words? Yes, it would, because my word means something, but the Quran bit would be superfluous;  I don’t observe the Quran, less perhaps than Ellison does the Bible. The oath of office is being sworn to give an implied verbal warranty to the officeholder’s beliefs, not the voters’.

But while Prager is less correct than usual on this issue, he’s still more on the ball than whichever editoral-board drone wrote this bit of aromatica.  (I suspect Nick Coleman, the only person in the left-leaning world who still says “wingnut” with all the glee of a toddler who just made a big, juicy pants).

18 thoughts on “A Rare Thing

  1. haha, that was a good line mitch, “But while Prager is less correct than usual..”

    Less correct? how about completely wrong and un-american.

  2. Yes. un-American. McCarthy misused the term. Here, Fulcrum is not.

    Directly going against the letter and the spirit of the Constitution is un-American otherwise what does it mean to be American? It is more than a piece of paper. It is what makes us a country and not just a bunch of people living near each other.

    If you don’t like what’s in the Constitution, our forefathers had the foresight to allow amending it. That is the American way to change our fundamental document – the basic contract of our society.

    To call for a course of action that directly violates the Constitution is un-American.

    There may be a time when someone, based on their personal ethical compass, may feel it necessary to do such a thing. The “rightness” or “wrongness” of that choice may be subject to debate, but it is certainly un-American.

  3. I should note:

    I am not stating that Prager is “un-American”. Simply that this call to action is. I don’t know squat about Prager beyond this Townhall article.

  4. Yes Terry I believe his statement to be very un-american as it goes against the Constitution of the United States, and the very basis, the very understanding, of what it means to be an American.

    Prager states in his article: “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.”

    Wrong Mr. Prager, they only care about one thing, upholding the Constitution.

    The Constitution specifies in Article VI, clause 3:

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

  5. Less correct? how about completely wrong and un-american.

    Un-American? He has an opinion. He has that right, as an American. I disagree with him. Prager is generally dead-on with most things; this issue is one exception (and a niggling one at that).

    I find it interesting that liberals – who screech like stuck cats when someone calls Michael Moore “un-American” for acts that clearly spit in the face of everything this nation stands for – are so quick to resort to the same thing for merely disagreeing with the mainstream.

    And the Strib’s editorial on the subject was inexcusable.

  6. I agree with you that he has a right to utter such a statement, i just believe that his opinion is un-american.

    As to your MM comment I am lost as to that reference, sorry.

    But it is not only liberals who are “screeching like stuck cats.”

  7. Gosh Fulcrum I guess you’ve decided that if the nine judges in black decide that something is unconstitutional, it’s un-american to disagree with them. Otherwise what do you place your trust in when you decide what this most revered document actually means when applied to specific cases? Autobiography?
    As I said, McCarthyism. That means it’s a cheap way to attempt to end a debate on an issue.
    Bye-the bye, fulcrum, the supreme court okayed the internment of AJA’s during the 2nd world war. What a wonderful thing it is to live in a land with American values!

  8. Terry, please explain once in my post were I talked about the Supreme Court and its decisions? I have clearly stated my opinion and backed it up with text from the Constitution. However, in your efforts to “continue” debate, you keep on yelling McCarthyism.

    Please explain your thoughts about what Prager said. Judging from your reactions to my post, I assume you agree with him? Would you rather our elected officials uphold the values of the Bible over the Constitution? Do praytell….

  9. Actually, I’m curious as to this as well. What does the Supreme Court have to do with it?

    Those judges become necessary when there is a significant disagreement as to what the Constitution requires.

    “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.”

    Is there any reasonable disagreement that requiring a congress person to swear their oath or affirmation on the Bible would be in violation of Article VI Clause 3 of the Constitution?

    That said, after some consideration, it does occur to me that to call for the violation of the Constitution isn’t necessarily un-American. There are times in our history where we’ve determined the Constitution needed to be changed (in some of the cases, I disagree with the changes, but that’s not the point). In general, during those times those who wished to see the Constitution changed criticized the Constitution, called for it to be changed and often advocated Civil Disobedience in violation of the Constitution. In general, the ability to do this is a very American thing.

    The problem I have with Prager’s article is that his statement of what America believes and stands for was in contradiction to the Constitution. He wasn’t calling for a change to the Constitution, he was subverting it by implying that our nation’s civilization was dependent on acting in opposition to the Constitution.

    To paraphrase:

    “Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one document, the Constitution of the United States of America.”

    I’ll accept that perhaps un-American isn’t the right word. We’re a nation built on the premise that the people should rule the nation, not the other way around. However,
    if the Constitution is what defines what America is, how shall we call the act of denying or subverting it?

  10. Fulcrum-
    Don’t you mean ‘text’ of the constitution? With the little quote marks around the word? The meaning of the constitution is decided politically. In actual cases where the law is considered it is decided by the courts. We are all free to believe whatever we want as to what the constitution means. An originalist may say that the term “religious test” meant to the people who wrote the constitution a vow to support a particular Christian sect. Or not. Calling someone un-american because they interpret the constitution differently than you do is bigotry. Michael Moore may be arguably be anti-american, but he is not un-American, nor are his ideas.
    I used the word “McCarthyism” because, as I wrote, it is a means of shouting down your opponent, of saying that all that one needs to consider about the merits of his or her argument is that it is ‘un-american’.
    Personally I don’t care whether Ellison takes his oath on the Bible or a copy of Hustler. He represents the people of his district, and they can toss him out in 2 years if he takes the oath in a way they don’t like.
    Just curious, Fulcrum — the constitution replaced the articles of confederation in 1787. Could anyone in the US have acted ‘un-american’ before that date? The gentlemen of the South Carolina legislature voted to secede from the union in part because they prefered the original articles of confederation to the 1787 constitution. Was the idea of secession un-american?

  11. Phaedrus-
    I think your phrase “Those judges become necessary when there is a significant disagreement as to what the Constitution requires.” would be better with the word ‘disgreement’ replaced by the word ‘contest’, otherwise we’re in almost complete agreement. Oh happy day!
    Personally I think that ‘religious test’ refers to a spoken oath. Requiring an oath-taker to place his hand on any particular object while speaking the words required (if they are required at all) is outside the realm of the constitution. I’m pretty sure that at some point the nine judges in black have decided differently, though.
    If you think I’m splitting hairs with “disagreement” vs. “contest”, I spent far too much time yesterday on a thread on a different blog arguing that etymology of the word “oath” makes it meaningless unless you are in a courtroom or calling on God or a god to witness your words.

  12. Terry, i don’t need 9 other people to explain to me what this phrase means, “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

    And so I am a bigot for saying prager is un-american, but you can call moore anti-american and that is not bigotry?

  13. *nod* I’ve not looked deeply into the meaning of the word oath but its my understanding that this is why they said “oath or affirmation” where those who aren’t calling upon the divine as their witness are using the affirmation part.

    I think that if I were to ever get elected to Congress, I’d swear on the Constitution.

    In terms of “disagreement” versus “contest”, I do think its possibly splitting hairs but its not a hair I’m overly concerned about. I’m comfortable with the word contest.

    I am still wondering what an appropriate way to refer to someone who seeks to subvert or deny the Constitution would be.

    As an aside, I think the question of whether or not Secession is a fundamentally American idea is an interesting one. I’m pretty sure you’d have to get the 9 folks in black robes in on that one, but my understanding is that our founding fathers would have supported the right of a state to leave the union.

  14. Prager actually clarified his earlier point on Medved’s show on Wed.
    He does not want Ellison PREVENTED from using the Quran, he wants him DISCOURAGED from EXCLUDING the bible deliberately for the first time in American history.
    Huge difference, wouldn’t you say?

  15. And yes, if he had actually said that Ellison should not be ALLOWED to serve unless he swore on a bible, it would be un-American. He didn’t.
    He said if you could not swear oaths using the Bible- or nothing- you SHOULDN’T
    RUN for office, just like any cab driver who because of his faith would refuse to carry a passenger from the airport if they carried alcohol, they are probably in the wrong profession.
    Another hugely spun difference.

  16. Airgun, Prager pretty much stated his belief that if one is not willing to swear an oath on the bible, they shouldn’t serve in Congress.

    Look what he wrote:

    “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.”

  17. “Terry, i don’t need 9 other people to explain to me what this phrase means, “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

    Fulcrum, you would have saved a lot of bandwidth if in response to my first comment on this thread you would have answered “autobiography”.

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