Dennis Prager: Clueless About America

Ken AshfordCongress, Constitution, Right Wing Punditry/IdiocyLeave a Comment

A view days ago, I linked to a debate between an noted agnostic and evangelical columnist Dennis Prager on the subject of the existence of God.  The debate was civilized and I bent over backwards to give Prager as much credit as I could possibly muster (even though his best argument for the existence of God boiled down to "It’s nice to believe in God, therefore God must exist").

Well, Prager put his foot in his mouth today, and the reason it went in so deeply is because his brain is the size of a pea.

It’s the most mind-numbingly America-ignorant colimn I have read in a long time, so bad that the most aporpos reaction is the one offered by The Seventh Sense reader Brett Borowski (who brought this to my attention)/  To quote Mr. Borowski:



So what did Prager write about which is causing Americans’ brains to melt?  You can read the full Townhall column here, but the gist is in the title and the first few paragraphs:

America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on

by Dennis Prager

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism — my culture trumps America’s culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison’s favorite book is. 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. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

It’s seems that Prager knows almost nothing about America’s culture.  One of the founding principles, if not THE founding principle, is religious freedom.  It’s the freakin’ FIrst Amendment.

When Prager writes, "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book [the Bible], don’t serve in Congress."

Does Prager know that the Constitution says this:

“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

That’s the American culture, baby.  But what Prager proposes — and he apparently is serious — is an outright and literal violation of the Constitution (a document which Prager ought to read before he opines on what is "American" and what is not).

Prager completely ignores what an oath actually is — its purpose is to bind the oathtaker to his duty.  To make that oath more palpable and meaningful to the oathtaker, it IS important that he take the oath on something sacred to him.  Otherwise, the oath would be (in his eyes) meaningless.

Americans have recognized this since the inception of America.  Here in North Carolina, for example, they had a debate whether to ratify the new Constitution back in 1788.  On the subject of requiring religious oaths to a particular religion (which Prager is advocating), this was said:

A very remarkable instance also happened in England, about forty years ago, of a person who was admitted to take an oath according to the rites of his own country, though he was a heathen. He was an East Indian, who had a great suit in chancery, and his answer upon oath to a bill filed against him was absolutely necessary. Not believing either in the Old or New Testament, he could not be sworn in the accustomed manner, but was sworn according to the form of the Gentoo religion, which he professed, by touching the foot of a priest. It appeared that, according to the tenets of this religion, its members believed in a Supreme Being, and in a future state of rewards and punishments. It was accordingly held by the judges, upon great consideration, that the oath ought to be received; they considering that it was probable those of that religion were equally bound in conscience by an oath according to their form of swearing, as they themselves were by one of theirs; and that it would be a reproach to the justice of the country, if a man, merely because he was of a different religion from their own, should be denied redress of an injury he had sustained. Ever since this great case, it has been universally considered that, in administering an oath, it is only necessary to inquire if the person who is to take it, believes in a Supreme Being, and in a future state of rewards and punishments. If he does, the oath is to be administered according to that form which it is supposed will bind his conscience most.

Heck, even the Bible commands that "Ye shall not swear falsely", but this is exactly what Prager believes Ellison should do.

Prager is un-American not because he is mean-spirited, but because he is ignorant about the country he lives in.  And it’s a shame that he has such a large public forum and following.  (Fortunately, his remarks are being condemned as ignorant and misguided by the right and the left).

By the way, Franklin Pierce chose to take an affirmation rather than an oath with his hand on the Bible.  Teddy Roosevelt also didn’t use a Bible for his first inauguration.  (More Presidential inauguration Bible trivia here).

Oh, and by the way?  NOBODY who gets elected to the House of Representatives gets sworn in on a Bible.  The swearing-in ceremony consists only of the Members raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the Constitution.

RELATED:  Rep. Ellison has seen this fearmongering before.  Conservative CNN host Glenn Beck had a go at him, too.  Jon Stewart’s takedown is a classic:

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds weighs in.  And here’s Prager defending his views with Eugene Volokh, and losing.  In fact, he makes little sense (what is "The American Bible"?)