First Muslim in Congress hails religious freedom
Rep. Keith Ellison, who became the first Muslim in Congress on Jan. 4, said he was proud to take a ceremonial oath of office using the Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson — a plan that had triggered criticism.
“The very foundation of our nation, the authors of our Constitution impressed, is religious freedom, and the use of Jefferson’s Koran shows that the founders not only knew of the Koran but also used it,” said the Minnesota Democrat, who used the historic volume during a ceremonial swearing-in of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said, “It was much ado about nothing. All 435 members just took the oath, en masse, without anyone putting their hand on any book.”
Congress members often use the Bible in the numerous ceremonial swearing-ins on the first day of a new session, but the official version is conducted in unison in the House chamber.
Mr. Ellison’s plan to use of the Koran drew criticism from Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia Republican, who sent an e-mail to his constituents saying that the use of the Koran was improper.
“I fear that in the next century, we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies,” Mr. Goode said last month.
The debate intensified throughout the Christmas season.
Mr. Goode, who represents Thomas Jefferson’s ancestral hometown of Charlottesville, settled the matter on Jan. 4. He con- gratulated Mr. Ellison on his election victory shortly before the two were sworn in and said he valued freedom of religion. But he stood by his position. “While tolerance is a hallmark of our Judeo-Christian nation, it is Islamic fundamentalism that predominates in nations such as Iran and even among many Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq, where it can hardly be said that tolerance is the order of the day,” Mr. Goode said. “Our country is, has been and will be better off rooted in Judeo-Christian principles.”
Mr. Ellison, the first black member of Congress from Minnesota, was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.
The Library of Congress provided the Koran, which was published in London in 1764, that Mr. Ellison used in a ceremonial oath with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at his side. So many of Mr. Ellison’s family members attended the ceremony that it was performed in two takes.
“Today we are swearing in the largest number of AfricanAmericans in the House of Representatives, and we are so pleased that the first Muslim elected is among them, Keith Ellison,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
In the Congress, there are 155 Catholics, 67 Baptists, 61 Methodists, 44 Presbyterians, 43 Jews, 37 Episcopalians, 26 nondenominational Protestants, 18 nondenominational Christians, 17 Lutherans, 15 Mormons and 47 members of other religions and denominations of Christianity.
Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “It was absolutely unfair for [Mr. Ellison] to have to go through this; we all raise our hands to the Lord here,” after the CBC leadership was sworn in earlier in the day at the Library of Congress.
Librarian of Congress James Billington handed Kim Ellison Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran for the ceremonial swearing-in of her husband, Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat.