Conservatives have repeatedly argued that Muslim Rep.-elect Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) decision to take an unofficial swearing-in photograph with his hand on the Koran was un-American.
Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned last month that “if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.” Talk show host Dennis Prager said Ellison’s act “undermines American civilization.”
In a symbolic decision showing how misguided this argument is, Ellison has chosen to take his photograph with a personal copy of the Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson:
Jefferson’s copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson’s collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn’t the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies — the Library [of Congress] has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.
Jefferson was a champion of religious tolerance. His 1777 Draft of a Bill for Religious Freedom states…
…that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right.
In an ironic twist, the Washington Post reports that Virgil Goode “represents Jefferson’s birthplace” of Albemarle County, Virginia, but had no comment on Ellison’s book choice.