Ellison’s merely exercising rights

Keith Ellison has caused a stir by saying he will swear in with a Quran in January.

As the only Muslim in the U.S. Congress, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison has not suffered from a lack of attention. On the contrary, his name seems to constantly adorn headlines – and this week is no different. With about a month to go before the new members of Congress are sworn in, Ellison has sent shockwaves through conservative media outlets by stating that he wants to have the Quran present at the ceremony. While political commentators jumped all over the issue, there is no reason for alarm.

To begin with, there needs to be some clarification. When taking the oath of office, legislators do not place their hand on a Bible while reciting the oath. It has become common for members of Congress to carry a Bible, but this is used for post-ceremony photos.

The Constitution never mentions God or the Bible in regards to the swearing-in ceremony. Politicians have given religious overtones to what was designed as a secular tradition. The fact that religious texts are included in this ceremony is somewhat bothersome, but the Quran is no more offensive than any other. While the Constitution would be the most appropriate document for members of Congress to hold, freedom allows them the option to do as they will and Ellison’s inclusion of the Quran is merely an expression of freedom of religion. If there is one explicit part of the Constitution, it’s the right to practice religion as we see fit. Ellison is merely exercising an American liberty.

Radio, TV and blog personalities were up in arms about Ellison’s decision, but they need to settle down. The Constitution requires no “religious test” to assume a government position, and they should be careful not to confuse longstanding tradition with the intent of the Constitution.

The amount of bigotry surrounding Ellison and his religion has been startling so far during his short time in Washington. We hope this trend won’t continue.