Sunday, December 03, 2006

On the Constitution

Dennis Prager made some headlines this week with his insistence that it would be somehow wrong for newly elected representative Keith Ellison to perform his swearing-in on the Quran (Koran?) instead of the Bible. As support of his position, he makes reference to tradition, and writes, "Insofar as a member of Congress is 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." This natuarally led to debate on several sights, and (I presume) talk shows with folks getting rather upset on either side of the fence, because there's only ever 2 ways to look at something.

Read another way, Prager's statement above says "If your religious beliefs preclude you from swearing in on a Bible, then you shouldn't be allowed to be a Congressman," or, "as a test of fealty to the United States, you must swear yourself in on the Bible."

Since my head is swimming from CrimPro and Pretrial studying, I'm going to waste a few minutes on this "issue."

First things first - Prager is upset about a CEREMONIAL swearing in, not an actual swearing in. According to the Clerk of the House, NO BOOK is used during the official swearing in of Congresspersons. The ceremonial swearing in is more of a photo-op; it's used for publicity purposes. Prager's concern, according to his explanation, and put concisely by myself here, was that the ceremony must respect tradition. This fails to take into consideration that, in the past, the ceremonial swearing in has used the Bible, the Constitution, and NOTHING. So, traditionally, the Bible has not been used exclusively.

Secondly, and more importantly, Prager's concern for "tradition" is unconstitutional. He and those who agree with him would put as a condition precedent to holding office a test of swearing in on the Bible, even if one's religion prohibited it. The last sentence of Article VI of the Constitution: [N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office of public Trust under the United States. (emphasis mine)
In other words, it would appear that those who clamor for the blind adherance to "tradition" would put that concern over and above the written word of the Constitution. This must be a real conundrum for the religious right that so blindly adhered to the President's insistence on a strict constructionist viewpoint. Now the only real approach is to say that Prager's analysis is not a "test," it's a tradition, and not tied to religion, because it would "apply to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs" (not a real quote, this is my finger quotes around this statement).

Well, if nothing else, Dennis Prager did what he was supposed to do - he got people to talk about what he wrote. It certainly gave me something to write about while taking a study break and not thinking of the snail I ate last night.

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