Sworn In with a Quran?

Incoming Rep. Keith Ellison intends to use a Quran at his unofficial swearing-in ceremony. But the Minnesota Democrat is being criticized by some who say he should use a Bible. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It was all the talk on many conservative Web sites, and now a Republican lawmaker from Virginia has joined in the controversy over the first Muslim American congressman and what holy book he will put his hand on when he takes the oath of office in January. Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison plans to place his hand on the Quran, not the Bible, as part of the swearing in ceremonies, and that is not sitting very well with some, including that congressman from Virginia.

Joining us to talk about this is NPR political editor Ken Rudin, and Ken, this is Congressman Virgil Goode. What does he say?

KEN RUDIN: Well, Virgil Goode, first of all, he's a very conservative Democrat turned independent turned Republican who's a very strong opponent of illegal immigration, and he says that unless we curb illegal immigration, more Muslims will be coming to the country, more Muslims will be elected to Congress, and thus more Muslims will be taking the oath of office on the Quran, not the Bible, and that has to be stopped.

BLOCK: Okay, now of course Keith Ellison is not an immigrant.

RUDIN: Well, he's an immigrant from Detroit. Actually, he traces his American roots back to the 1700s.

BLOCK: And what kind of reaction has there been back in his district, in Minneapolis, to his decision to use the Quran?

RUDIN: Well of course, members of the - voters of the 5th District knew before the election that he was a Muslim, that the Jewish community was overwhelmingly in favor of him. He won overwhelmingly in this big, white district. He says he has received some death threats since he said he would, you know, use the Quran instead of the Bible, but the popular - the vote, the support back home is very positive.

BLOCK: Ken, let's clarify one thing. When members of Congress are sworn in, there is no holy book involved, right?

RUDIN: They all stand up - all newly elected members of the Congress stand up, they raise their right hand. There is no holy book - Bible, Quran or otherwise - then in private ceremonies later, you could take ceremonial things with, the Bible or the Quran or whatever you want.

BLOCK: And is there any precedent for anybody using anything other than the Bible?

RUDIN: Well that's exactly it. Yes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress, a Democrat from Florida, took the oath of office on a Hebrew bible, the Tanakh. Gordon Smith, a Mormon member, senator from Oregon, he took his on a book of Mormon prayer. So there is a precedent to do this before.

BLOCK: And is this issue getting traction outside of the people you mentioned, this congressman and the conservative Web sites?

RUDIN: Well, the conservatives have been on this theme for some time, since a Los Angeles radio host several weeks ago said this is un-American. But you know, Keith Ellison has said over and over again, this is part of America, part of the diversity that America represents.

BLOCK: Okay, Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, and he writes the weekly Political Junkie column. You can find it at our Web site, NPR.org.

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