Constitutional Rights vs. Right-Wing Pundits

Zabie Mansoory

Have you ever been discriminated against or hated by others every day? If you answered yes, I am very sorry to hear that. But sadly enough, that is something Muslim-Americans have to deal with on a daily basis. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an article about Keith Ellison, the first Muslim who got elected in congress. He is already under fire for practicing his freedom of speech.

Last week, right-wing pundit Dennis Prager, a Jewish American, ranted that Ellison should not be allowed to take his congressional oath on the Quran because “America is only interested in one book, the Bible.”

As America celebrated the victory of Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, AM radio talk show host Prager decided to impart his Islamophobic opinion by stating that Ellison should not be allowed to take his congressional oath on the Quran, because it “undermined American civilization.” Who is Prager to tell Ellison, an African-American Muslim, what it means to be American? I think Ellison has learned by now what it means to be American.

Prager also said that “America should not give a hoot what Ellison’s favorite book is” and that “if you are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”

It is people such as Prager with his intolerant and unbelievably erroneous comments who clearly display their ignorance of the United States Constitution. Based on Article VI of the Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

This unequivocally means that the government cannot dictate what a person uses as a religious book. Prager, if you need a copy of the Constitution, let me know. I am sure I can find you one.

What Prager is trying to say is that Ellison is unfit for office because of his religious beliefs. I have to say, we live in a very sad world. Let’s face it, Prager’s attacks are specifically targeted toward the fact that Ellison wants to use the Quran to administer his congressional oath. Why didn’t Prager cry foul when Florida Democrat Debbie Schultz refused the Christian Bible offered by Dennis Hastert and borrowed a Hebrew Bible for her swearing-in ceremony? What about when Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii, took her oath on the Torah? The reason why there was no uproar over this matter was because Schultz and Lingle were merely practicing their constitutional right to swear on the books they believed in – not on the book society believes in. In the aftermath of this incident, Jewish groups around the country have also condemned Prager’s bigoted comments in support of Ellison.

Simply put, there is not one book that can encompass the beliefs of American society.

What truly unifies Americans is a value system that is built on religious freedom as a fundamental and cherished right. The fundamental ideals of America are freedom and democracy, and this is achieved by celebrating religious and cultural diversity.

The sooner we get that in our heads, the better off we will all be.

I challenge all of us to be open- and fair-minded and respect the diversity of our society and, most importantly, keep in mind that our Constitution was written to give everyone equal rights and freedom.