Two weeks ago, Keith Ellison, the first black congressman from Minnesota and the first Muslim in Congress ever, announced that he would be taking his oath of office on the Qur’an.

“I, AB, 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.”

The swearing of this oath – the one currently used – was begun by President Lincoln in 1861. He mandated that all federal employees take it in an attempt to bind the federal government to the Union. Today all elected officials in the state and federal government are required to recite that oath upon entrance into office. Every other January, all 435 members of the House of Representatives rise together and recite it. Members also hold photo sessions afterward, with their hand on a leather tome – usually the Bible – for use in campaign mailers.

The outrage over Ellison’s declaration by our country’s “in-house” fascists has been absolutely hysterical. Dennis Pragner, a national syndicated radio talk-show host and one of President Bush’s nominees to the governing board of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, has become the unofficial spokesman for the group.

“Ellison can’t be allowed to do that; it undermines American civilization,” he ranted, “Using the Qur’an is akin to a racist taking the oath on a copy of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.'” And this, my favorite quote: “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.”

I would say that this is a story we should just laugh at, but it highlights a much deeper problem.

Last month at a Town Hall Meeting on the University’s new diversity policy. We spent time quibbling over the definition of diversity and tolerance and discussing how Eastman now puts curtains up and carpeting on the floor during interviews so women aren’t discriminated against. All minute policies and nuances directed an unconscious bias. Maybe what we should have discussed is why there are people in our country who believe that unless you swear on a Bible, you shouldn’t serve in Congress.

Another radio host, Jerry Klein, from outside of D.C., aired a hoax show calling for all Muslims in this country to be branded with a crescent shaped tattoo or armband.

His phone lines filled instantly. The first caller said he was nuts, but the second and many others during the hour-long show whole-heartily agreed with that idea. Some went even further, calling for special camps for Muslims across the country. At the end of the hour he announced the show had been a hoax and heavily condemned his listening audience for coming anywhere near agreeing with anything he said.

A Gallop poll done this summer cited 39 percent of Americans being in favor of requiring Muslims to carry special identification. This isn’t something that we can laugh about – there is an overrepresented group of backward, asinine, intolerant fascists, who are hijacking our country. It isn’t big business or a breakdown of democracy which says “swear on a Bible or don’t serve” – it’s the rightwing nuts, the over-drugged hippies of our generation.

Neither the U.S. Code, the Constitution, Lincoln’s order to all Federal employees nor in any other document does it mention that politicians should swear on a Bible. There is no reason Keith Ellison should not be allowed to honor his religion and its holy text. I don’t care what our politicians take the oath of office on or if they take it on anything. The last session of Congress’ massive corruption – Abramoff, Foley, Delay and all those associated with them, should be proof enough that our representatives don’t care either.

Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.

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