Dennis Prager’s bogus history

Conservative, sometimes-rational commentator Dennis Prager is in a dudgeon because someone suggested that our first Muslim Member of Congress might take his oath of office on the Qur’an, rather than a Bible. Prager’s irrational rant demands that Congressmen Keith Ellison of Minnesota be stripped of his religious freedom (really — go see). He claims, using bogus history, that swearing without a Bible would be a first. That’s dead wrong.

Minnesota State Rep. Keith Ellison at Macalester College

Then-State Rep. Keith Ellison speaks at a Macalester College seminar on environmental justice and human rights, in February 2006. On November 7, Ellison was elected to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Congress, the first Muslim to be elected. Photo from Macalester College, American Studies Department.

Prager claims in his bio to have done graduate study. Would it be too much to expect him to understand the U.S. Constitution?

First, the U.S. Constitution prevents anyone from requiring any official elected to federal, state or local office, from having to take any oath on any religious book. Really. It’s in Article VI:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, 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.

You’d think Prager would know that.

Second, there is no book used to swear in Members of Congress, no Bible, no nothing. Members are usually sworn in on the floor of the House, en masse, simply asked to raise their right hands and swear the oath of office.

There is a photo session set up later, in which a member is photographed with the Speaker of the House, re-enacting the swearing-in, and many members use a family Bible or some other sentimentally-important book at that time. There is no requirement that a Bible be used, or that any book be used.

Prager could have learned that.

Third, Members swear to uphold the Constitution, not the Bible. It’s a secular oath, required by Article VI section 3 of the Constitution to ask members to make no religious statement. Members may leave off the last phrase, which some Christians append:

I, [name of Member], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Fourth, many Members simply forego using any book. There is no requirement that any book be used — the honor of the Member is put on the line, not her or his faith.

Prager appears, to me, to be trying to foment indignation for his own profit. There was a time when syndicated columnists, like Prager, had editors who checked their work for accuracy. There was a time when most editorial page editors would also check such works for accuracy, and spike silly comments. I hope there are such editors today.

How does a nationally-syndicated columnist get into print with such grotesque inaccuracies in his work?

Update:  Two UCLA law professors took Prager to task already.  Here is Stephen Bainbridge’s piece; here is one by Eugene Volokh. Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

14 Responses to Dennis Prager’s bogus history

  1. Ryan says:

    It’s respectful of him to offer to swear on what he believes in. Too be honest though there no real reason to swear on anything, swearing on the Constitution would be a better idea.

    I think I’ve seen Prager was the one who called universities “idiot boxes where people believe men and women are equal” Only people with relevant things to say deserve media attention.


  2. Ediacaran says:

    Bob wrote: “The objection I have with someone using the Quran is that the Quran allows its people to lie if needed. Plus the Quran is a very violent book that tells its followers today to be violent.”

    Amen, Bob! Such examples of lying are when Jacob lied to receive his father’s blessing(1), or when the women lied to the Pharaoh. As for violence, we see such examples as when that guy actually gathered firewood on Saturday, and he was stoned to death for it(3), or the mass murder of the Midianites(4). Thank goodness we don’t rely on ancient middle eastern books as the basis of OUR morality.

    (1) Genesis 27
    (2) Exodus 1
    (3) Numbers 15
    (4) Numbers 31

    Oh wait, those examples of lying and violence were from the Bible, not the Quran! Never mind. And we all know that Bible-believing Christians could never advocate violence, as this famous Christian leader shows:

    “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
    First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it ­ will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.
    Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.” — Martin Luther, founder of Protestant Christianity, in his work “The Jews and Their Lies”, as translated from German

    Well, maybe the Protestants don’t really understand the Bible, so let’s quote a Catholic instead:

    “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” — Adolf Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf, translated from German,

    Okay, so Hitler was a Catholic, but he wasn’t a leader of the Church. The Pope and others at the Vatican would never advocate violence. Just ask Bruno.

    Bob, you don’t have any plans to collect firewood on Saturday, do you?


  3. AnotherBob says:

    But that’s an aside.
    Why doesn’t he, and a number of other bloggers
    accept your basic premise; “[Article VI of the Constitution expressly forbids it,” ?
    Cognitive dissonance?


  4. AnotherBob says:

    I don’t think Bob has ever opened a Qur’an.
    Which makes his comments all the more depressing


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    As if the Bible doesn’t advocate violence?

    On that criterion, Bob, are you recommending we swear in officials only on a book of Zen Koans?

    And, Bob: Do you think Dennis Prager was using the Qur’an when he lied about this whole procedure? Or was it just a whole-cloth lie?


  6. Bob says:

    The objection I have with someone using the Quran is that the Quran allows its people to lie if needed. Plus the Quran is a very violent book that tells its followers today to be violent.


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Are you opposed to the use of Bibles in swearing in ceremonies? Why?


  8. dallas says:

    first this is an uncomfortable vision for some of us ,seeing a koran used in a goverment house…could be a vision of americas future…
    i know any progress made to elimnate the bible or its influence from america sets the marxists dancing with joy…its self destructive…but…we know the left is be it…. you will reap the consequences.


  9. […] Powerline appears to be complaining about Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s and America’s first Moslem congressman. After reciting the usual Powerline diatribes claiming Ellison is probably a Marxist, certainly out […]


  10. […] Los Angeles conservative radio host Dennis Prager embarrassed himself by calling on Ellison to use a Christian Bible to put his left hand on while being sworn in […]


  11. Ellie says:

    Perhaps Mr. Prager, in addition to educating himself regarding the Constitution of our nation, should also be aware that some of us Christians would NEVER “swear on a Bible,” as we take seriously the words of Him whom we call Lord and Savior when he said not to swear on anything in heaven or on the earth but to let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no because anything more comes from the evil one. However, swearing on a Bible does make a nice show. “See how pious I am? I’m swearing on a Bible. In fact, bring me a whole stack!”


  12. edarrell says:

    The use of a Bible isn’t even a tradition — it’s non-existent. It’s against the law to insist on the use of a Bible in such a place — Article VI of the Constitution expressly forbids it, and the First Amendment also forbids it, according to the decision in Torcaso v. Watkins. There is no book used to swear in new Members on the floor — Prager is simply wrong in his assertion that a Bible is ever used officially.
    But think about it from the opposite view: How would your view change if we insisted that no Christian could use the Bible for the photo-op? That is, in essence, what you urge, that a Muslim be prohibited from the free exercise of his faith, by a governmental entity. That is a classic First Amendment violation. Ellison hasn’t said he’s uncomfortable at all — it’s Prager who is uncomfortable. Prager should respect our national tradition of not insisting on religious fealty for any public office — it’s not only tradition, it’s the law.


  13. Mario says:

    I don’t see the using of a Bible in a swearing in ceremony being a religious test. It is more a tradition, however if Mr. Ellison is uncomfortable using the Bible, then he should respect our national tradition and simply raise his hand and affirm his oath. Perhaps some enterprising member of Congress can sponsor a bill that automatically affirms your allegiance if elected, much like the one to the Queen of England. By virtue of your election, you have automatically affirmed it to the crown.


  14. Kathy says:

    Awesome! It would be great if this could be published somewhere. I support freedom of speech, but really, columnists who outright lie should be exposed.


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