Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- In multi-culti America, there's no worse offense than being a ``racist,'' and no word has suffered more abuse.

We've had a taste of that recently as Muslim and Jew have slugged it out over whether a Koran can be used at a private swearing-in ceremony for Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.

Dennis Prager, a popular talk show host and columnist, who happens to be Jewish -- as well as a thoroughly decent fellow -- wrote a column recently protesting Ellison's insistence on injecting his religious preference into an American tradition:

``Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. ... If you are incapable of taking oath on that book (the Bible), don't serve in Congress.''

Prager has been pilloried from all sides. In the blogosphere, he's been called everything from racist to Islamophobic. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch called Prager a ``bigot'' and a ``schmuck,'' and is demanding his resignation or removal from the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, on which both men serve.

Most entertaining has been a similar demand from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), lest Muslims worldwide get a negative impression about ``America's commitment to religious tolerance.''

Irony must be basking.

CAIR routinely demonstrates intolerance for any opinion deemed insensitive to its views and targets individuals and institutions for cyber-posses and technomobs. Ask any cartoonist who has drawn an image of you-know-who.

Back through the looking glass, Prager says his objections have nothing to do with race or religious intolerance, but with a concern for American solidarity. His premise is that the country is in danger of unraveling if we continue to erode traditions that are the common threads of the republic.

Prager asserts that the Bible has been used for swearing-in ceremonies since George Washington. Which is true, except when it isn't.

Not every elected official has used the Bible, including some Jews (Koch, a U.S. representative from 1969 to 1977, used a Hebrew Bible for his initial swearing-in) and some Quakers, including Herbert Hoover, whose beliefs prohibit the swearing of oaths.

The U.S. Constitution, meanwhile, leaves plenty of wiggle room for those who prefer not to make religious statements. Eugene Volokh, constitutional law professor at UCLA, has written that requiring someone to swear on the Bible would violate the Constitution's provision that ``no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.''


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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