The Bible and the Qur'an will share the spotlight with the usual menu of political debate and rancour when the US Congress reconvenes tomorrow (4 January 2007)- writes Chris Herlinger for Ecumenicl News International.
The election of the first Muslim to the US House of Representatives and his intention of incorporating the Qur'an during a private swearing-in ceremony on the first day of the sitting, triggered hostile reaction from one quarter.
The declaration by Keith Ellison, a Muslim elected to represent the state of Minnesota on a Democratic Party ticket, prompted Virgil Goode, a Republican from Virginia, to say the United States would need to adopt strict immigration policies "necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped".
In a letter to his constituents before the end of 2006, Goode said: "When I raise my hand to take the oath on swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Qur'an in any way."
He noted: "The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Qur'an."
Goode's comments garnered an angry reaction from a number of United States Muslim and religious freedom advocacy groups, including one Jewish organisation.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations termed Goode's statement "ignorant and divisive," calling it "an affront to Muslims in his district and to Americans of all faiths who believe in our nation's longstanding traditions of religious tolerance and diversity".
David Friedman, an official of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, wrote to Goode and noted that no member of Congress is sworn in using a Bible or other book of scripture. The official swearing-in ceremony for house members, he noted, is performed in the chambers en masse without the use of a holy book. Members, however, often re-enact the swearing-in privately and use a book of holy scripture for that ceremony.
Friedman told Goode, what unifies Americans is a "value system built on religious freedom, respect for differences, and democratic pluralism".
In a 21 December 2005 interview with CNN television, Ellison - an African American born in Detroit - said he looked forward to meeting Goode. "He might want to know that Muslims - there are about 5 million in the country - that they are here to support and strengthen America," said Ellison.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]