Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) was recently sworn in to Congress using the Quran instead of the Bible. Conservatives and liberals were aflutter with opposing opinions that either blasted or praised the Muslim woman for her audacity or bravery, depending on which side of the fence the apple falls. Is Tlaib’s use of the Quran really the issue, or is the problem the woman herself?
History records several instances of politicians using something other than the Bible.
Bibles Weren’t Always Used
No law or policy requires members of Congress to swear in using the Bible or any other text. In fact, if they so choose, they could hold a personal diary, a romance novel, or even a comic book for the ceremony. Article VI, clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that members “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.”
The tradition of using Bibles to swear oaths got its start in the ninth century when people appeared before church altars, which served as courtrooms. The book of the Gospels later became part of oath-taking ceremonies in courtrooms across England, and eventually made the journey to America.
Tlaib is not the first to use something other than the Bible, and not even the only person to do so for the 116th Congress. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), another Muslim woman, chose to use a Quran for her ceremony. Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), claiming to be “religiously unaffiliated,” used a law book that held the constitutions of the United States and Arizona.
History records several instances of politicians using something other than the Bible. In 1825, John Quincy Adams swore his presidential oath on a law book. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in after the assassination of President William McKinley without any oath-object. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first Hindu member of Congress in 2013, took her oath on an edition of the Bhagavad Gita. Suzi Levine in 2013 swore on a Kindle for her position as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And in 2018, to affirm her role as Athens-Clarke County commissioner in Georgia, Mariah Parker used a copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
The Quran in U.S. Ceremonies
In 2007, Keith Ellison of Minnesota used Thomas Jefferson’s Quran to take his oath as the first-ever Muslim member of Congress. At the time, Dennis Prager, a conservative columnist, wrote a piece protesting adamantly. “He [Ellison] should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Quran, but because the act undermines American civilization,” he said.
“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.”
Tlaib’s use of the Quran is gaining just as much criticism as Ellison’s, but perhaps not for the same reasons. While Omar also used the book to take her oath, she is not being blasted in the headlines. It seems Tlaib earned notoriety because of her attack on the president: “We’re gonna impeach the mother**ker.”
Not only did Tlaib use the Quran instead of the Bible, she also wore a thobe, a traditional Palestinian dress with intricate embroidery, during the ceremony. Conservative pastor commentator and former Virginia GOP Lieutenant Governor nominee E.W. Jackson spoke out strongly against such changes in Congress, including the use of the Quran for swearing in and the new permit for wearing head coverings on the House floor, to accommodate Muslims. He said:
“The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic. We are a Judeo-Christian country. We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity and that’s that. And anybody that doesn’t like that, go live somewhere else. It’s very simple. Just go live somewhere else. Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on Sharia law.”
Tlaib explained her reasons for choosing to use the Quran. “I believe in secular government (and) my swearing in on the Quran is about me showing that the American people are made up of diverse backgrounds and we all have love of justice and freedom,” she said. “My faith has centered me. The prophet Mohammed was always talking about freedom and justice.”
However, freedom of religion does not mean usurping America’s traditions and laws. There is a House floor dress code for a reason, and all who seek a seat there should respect that. Are our justice system and our politics changing to the point that they are unrecognizable? Yes, we respect all religions and cultures; is it too much to ask that you respect our traditions?