“These Extremists Would Flunk My Class,’ Says Professor
SAN DIEGO — A constitutional law professor assailed the American Family Association and right wing columnist Dennis Prager today for their attacks on Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who has said that he wants to take his Congressional oath with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible.
“These extreme voices have clearly never read the U.S. Constitution and they would surely flunk my constitutional law class,” Bryan H. Wildenthal, a constitutional law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, told Truth Wins Out.
In response to Rep. Ellison’ request, the AFA urged supporters to “take action” by bullying members of Congress to “pass a law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators.
Right wing columnist Dennis Prager went even further on the AFA’s website by ranting that Ellison’s use of the Koran “undermines American civilization.” Prager continued by saying that only one holy book represents America.
“Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is,” wrote Prager. “Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.”
The problem with these right wing diatribes is that they are patently untrue and unconstitutional. Professor Wildenthal says the U.S. Constitution is clear on this issue when it says in Article VI, Clause 3:
“The Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
The professor says three key points right wing ideologues should take away are:
(1) The Constitution does not require that one swear by any oath at all. Quakers, among others, have religious objections to swearing oaths, and the founding fathers in the late 1700s (unlike our modern day religious right) were quite sensitive to this, and so provided the alternative of simply and solemnly “affirming” that one will support the Constitution and otherwise fulfill the duties of office.
(2) Neither “oath” nor “affirmation” needs to be sworn with one’s hand on any book whatsoever, much less any particular religious text. By the way, nor does the Constitution make any mention anywhere (not in Art. VI, nor in the similar presidential “oath” or “affirmation” in Art. II) of the customary but purely optional phrase, “so help me God.” All the Constitution requires is that you affirm that you will support the Constitution and faithfully fulfill the duties of office.
(3) Any requirement to “swear” or “affirm” using any religious book (or to be forced to include language like “so help me God”) would clearly be an unconstitutional “religious test.”
“Combating right wing lies is a bit like catching snowflakes in a blizzard,” said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Win Out. “No matter how many you get, there is a another snow job coming. However, sometimes the dishonesty is so outrageous, such as the AFA’ desecration of the U.S. Constitution, we have no choice but to respond.”