December 7, 2006
Prager won’t apologize after slamming Quran in Congress
Wants critical rabbi to apologize to <i>him</i>
Conservative pundit Dennis Prager has come under fire from Muslim and Jewish groups after he attacked an incoming Muslim congressman who plans to bring a Quran to the House swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4.
But Prager said he stands by statements made in his column published Nov. 28 on the Townhall.com Web site and has no intention of apologizing to Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) or his critics.
"I called on [Ellison] not to break a 200-year tradition," Prager, who is also a radio talk show host, told The Journal. "He thinks it's important, and I think it's important."
"If you are incapable of taking an oath on [the Bible], don't serve in Congress," Prager wrote, adding that if Ellison brought a Quran to the ceremony, it would do "more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11."
Ellison's decision to carry a Quran into the ceremony has infuriated some conservatives, who draw a fine line between constitutional rights and American tradition. However, Ellison has some defenders in the GOP. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) told McClatchy Newspapers that Ellison's ability to hold the book of his choice while he takes his oath embodies freedom of religion.
Prager is also being taken to task for equating Ellison's proposed use of the Quran at the swearing-in ceremony with a racist toting a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." "On what grounds will those defending Ellison's right to choose his favorite book deny that same right to a racist who is elected to public office?" he wrote.
Prager defends the Quran-"Mein Kampf" parallel in his Nov. 5 column, saying he was presenting a slippery-slope argument and was not defaming Islam. He writes thatpeople who draw such conclusions are "deliberately lying to defame me rather than respond to my arguments. A slippery slope argument is not an equivalence argument."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for Prager, who broadcasts locally on KRLA-AM 870, to be removed from his recent appointment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Prager's five-year term as a presidential appointee to the council expires on Jan. 15, 2011.
CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in a letter to Fred S. Zeidman, council chair: "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."
The Anti-Defamation League labeled the Nov. 28 column as "intolerant, misinformed and downright un-American," adding that Prager's recent appointment to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council holds him to a higher standard.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wants Prager to apologize directly to Ellison, who converted to Islam from Catholicism as a 19-year-old college student. "The notion that the exercise of your first amendment rights should be banned because someone else might misuse your words or misinterpret your actions violates two centuries of Supreme Court rulings," Saperstein said.
Prager is a popular speaker among Jewish groups around the country, commanding appearance fees upwards of $10,000.
While most of these groups, contacted this week by The Forward newspaper, declined to comment on Prager's remarks, several said they would reconsider inviting Prager barring an apology from him.
"There's lines you draw, and Dennis probably crossed the line," Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said in an interview with the Forward. "Just because we can get by with the first Five Books and some people say it's okay doesn't mean it's okay for the next guy to stand up and say if they can't swear on a Christian Bible, they're not qualified. He's pandering... [and] I wouldn't want the Muslim community to bring in a panderer. So that's what we'd have to think about."
In his Nov. 28 column, Prager claimed that all members of Congress, including Jews, use a Christian Bible for the swearing-in ceremony.
However, members of Congress are sworn in together in a simple ceremony that only requires that the representatives raise their right hand. Individuals may carry a sacred text, but its presence isn't required. Representatives can bring in whatever they want, said Fred Beuttler, House of Representatives deputy historian.
In his column, Prager also claimed that no "Mormon official demanded to put his hand on the Book of Mormon." In 1997, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), a Mormon, carried a Bible that included the Book of Mormon to his swearing-in ceremony. But Ellison's use of a Quran isn't without precedent. In 1999, Osman Siddique became the first Muslim to serve abroad as a U.S. ambassador, and he took his oath using both a Quran and a Bible.
Prager told The Journal that he would have no problem if Ellison brought along a Bible in addition to the Quran. And while he agrees that Ellison has the constitutional right to use only the Quran, Prager thinks the incoming freshman should consider the cultural and historic implications of his act.
"It's an unbroken tradition since George Washington, and he wants to substitute it with his values," he said.
Prager said he will not take Saperstein up on his call for an apology to Ellison. Instead, he believes groups like the ADL and the Religious Action Center have wronged him.
"I think Saperstein owes me an apology," Prager said. "It's chutzpah ... arrogance on his part."
To read Dennis Prager's column on Ellison, click here.
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