Dennis Prager's Biblical con

Monday, December 04, 2006 at 05:13 PM

I wasn't going to get drawn in to Dennis Prager's latest idiocy, in which he claims that newly elected Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison is somehow betraying America and American values by choosing to "swear" his oath of office using the Koran instead of the traditional Bible.

But then I made the mistake of watching Prager on Tucker Carlson's show a little while ago.  A complete con, start to finish.

Prager initially said, "Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath."   That was a few days ago.

Now you have to step back from Prager (always a pleasure, actually), and look at the actual situation:

  1. You don't swear the oath of office to the House on anything.  You simply raise your hand along with all the other newly elected Representatives, and recite a very short, non-religious oath.  Exactly what I did earlier today at the County Court House as a condition of participating in a recount of the vote for State Auditor.

  2. After the swearing in, most of these Representatives do employ a Bible in what amounts to an optional photo-op for the family picture album and for the constituents, but this has nothing to do with the required oath of office.

  3. As noted in a Knight Ridder piece on this manufactured controversy a full four days ago:

In the National Review, Volokh noted that two former presidents - Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover - didn't swear their oaths but chose to affirm them.

He said the Supreme Court long had held that Americans had the right to be treated equally, regardless of their religion, and that forcing Ellison to use the Bible would violate his rights.

"Letting Christians swear the oath of office, while allowing members of other denominations only to swear what ends up being a mockery of an oath - a religious ceremony appealing to a religious belief system that they do not share - would be discriminatory," Volokh wrote.

Taking an oath on the Quran isn't unprecedented.

In 1999, the News-India Times reported that Osman Siddique, a Virginia businessman of Bangladeshi origin, used the Quran to take the oath when he became the U.S. ambassador to Fiji and three other Pacific nations: Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu. He took the oath on the Bible and the Quran, with the Quran on top, the newspaper reported.

When it became obvious that Ellison was not using the Koran to actually take the oath, Prager saw no reason to retract anything:

After that explanation, Prager said the ceremonial oath is no less significant than the actual swearing-in.

"Oh, that's the whole point. It's exactly because it's ceremonial that it matters to me," he said. "Ceremonies matter. Ceremonies are exceedingly important. That is the way a society states what is most significant to it."

On Carlson's show, Prager said, among other bon mots:

  1. We get our laws from the Constitution; we get our values from the Bible.

  2. The Bible is the fundamental moral document of America.

  3. Atheists have taken their oath on the Bible.

The third statement is a classic "so what?"  It's the first two that demand a response and deserve the concern of everyone who wants our government and our religions to be kept in different drawers.

"We get our values from the Bible?"  Really?  Which values are those, exactly?  The ones about slavery and killing your enemies?  Or the ones about rich men not being able to enter Heaven?

Is there any chance in hell that the values of America in the 21st century are compatible with the idea that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven?

Some of the values in America surely did derive from the Bible initially, but there's really no doubt that we get our values from a ton of different places, including writers and philosophers who follow religions very different from Christianity or who follow no religion at all.

As for the Bible being "the fundamental moral document" of America...see above.  Not to mention that criminal and tort laws pretty much reflect the collective moral judgments of a society, and the laws we now have on the books bear little resemblance to the values of the Bible, even if you think that you are sufficiently insightful to even know what values the incredibly self-contradictory Bible advocates.

The good news is that most conservative folks seem to have determined that Prager is off in the ether on this one.  Carlson was not buying it.  At the National Review Online, Eugene Volokh, a law professor from UCLA asserted that Muslims should be just as protected as atheists and agnostics when it comes to the right to not "swear their oaths" at all.  But then, of course, there's the reliable Sean Vannity who buys every spurious contortion that Prager has to offer.

Now I do know this is a back door shot, but come on, is Prager (& Vannity) really going to push the idea that we get our values from the Bible when the Queen of Vitiol, distortion, and fabrication, Ann C**lter, claims to get her values from that same source?