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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Keith Ellison: A Target of Growing Muslim Intolerance

    During the past few years, religious prejudice, especially towards the religion of Islam, has escalated rapidly, gaining momentum each time the events of Sept. 11 are dredged up from the recent recesses of people’s memories, or whenever the increasing death toll of American soldiers in Iraq is brought to their attention. This has established a film of obscurity over people’s judgment because the majority of the American non-Muslim population condemns the worshipers of this faith and many have even labeled them as active practitioners of terrorism.

    Among many other Muslims, the newly-elected congressman Keith Ellison has faced an enormous amount of controversy and outrage from the American population who are infuriated by the Muslim congressman’s decision to use Koran in the informal oath-taking ceremony which took place in January.

    Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. Congress, was elected by his constituents in Minnesota who were not unaware of his religious affiliation. There are, however, people outside of his constituency who have not hesitated to voice their opinions about Ellison’s decision to use the’ Koran on the floor of the House of Representatives. Among these individuals is Dennis Prager, whose comments have been irrational and excessive. Prager claims, ‘He [Keith Ellison] should not be allowed to do so – not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.’

    This, however, is incongruous with the history of this nation. Among the first people to arrive on the American mainland and set up a colony were the Pilgrims, who had been persecuted in England for their religious beliefs, which were not in unity with the Church of England. These Pilgrims with separatist beliefs escaped the coercion of a religion in which they had no faith and came to North America in order to practice their freedom of religion.

    A somewhat different, but nevertheless, similar situation arose with the Puritans who also came to North America due to religious differences and intolerance they faced in England. The foundation of the’ emerging nation’ was the unity among people with different beliefs. The American civilization has for centuries been based upon principles of freedom.

    This later led to the establishment of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, which allows unprohibited exercise of any religion of choice. Some have argued that all elected officials in the history of this nation have either affirmed their allegiance to the Constitution or have taken an oath on the Bible. They are intolerable of the minor change inflicted on the history of the swearing-in ceremony.

    Prager shares this point of view and states, ‘If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book [Bible], don’t serve in Congress.’ Such statements undermine the freedom of religion granted to U.S. citizens by its Constitution, and the act of forcing a religion on an individual is unconstitutional.

    In the past, men have placed their hand on the Bible to take an oath because they have believed in the contents of that book. If Ellison is forced to put his hand on the Bible, in which he has no faith, the entire purpose of the oath taking ceremony would be wasted. A person’s oath gains credibility if he swears by something that he holds to be the ultimate truth and sacred. Therefore, it is obvious that Keith Ellison should place his hand on the Koran, which would increase the integrity of his promise to uphold his support for the Constitution of this nation. Using a Koran for a swearing-in ceremony does not mean that a person will not perform to the utmost of his abilities compared to a man who uses a Bible to take his oath.

    The United States is a symbol of freedom, and allowing Keith Ellison to take an oath over ‘ Koran is a testament to that fact, which was established long ago by the forefathers of this nation. This act is not to initiate the ‘Islamicization of America’ as feared by some individuals; instead, it is to strengthen the legacy of its Constitutional powers. Those who choose to disagree with this matter are simply restricted from understanding the basic principles of this country due to bias and inconsequential hatred.

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