An Islamic civil rights group wants a columnist removed from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council for criticizing Rep.-elect Keith Ellison's decision to use the Koran during the Minnesota Democrat's ceremonial swearing-in next month.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said yesterday that comments by Dennis Prager, a columnist and conservative talk radio host, displayed an intolerance toward Islam that makes him inappropriate to serve on the council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
President Bush appointed Prager in August to fill the remainder of a five-year term, which expires in January 2011.
In his column last week, Prager wrote: "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."
Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, sent a letter to the council's chairman, Fred Zeidman, saying, "No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had, and continues to have, on every society."
Messages left yesterday at the Holocaust Museum and at Zeidman's office were not returned.
Prager, in a telephone interview yesterday, offered what he called "a solution to this that would satisfy me and the vast majority of Americans" – Ellison bringing a Bible with him along with his Koran.
"The issue has never been one of religious freedom or attitudes toward Islam," added Prager, who is Jewish. "The issue has been from the outset honoring the most important text of American history."
Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress.
He will replace longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.
Ellison did not return phone messages yesterday, but a CAIR spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, questioned Prager's offer.
"It's obviously up to Mr. Ellison to decide, but I don't think that forcing him to swear an oath on a book not of his faith is the answer," Hooper said.
By tradition, all members of the House are sworn in together on the House floor. It's in the photo-op ceremony that a Bible is used – or in Ellison's case, the Koran.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and racism, issued a statement calling Prager's comments "intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American."
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