J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Virginia Congressman Violates Oath of Office

Rep. Virgil Goode, Republican of Virginia, has sent a letter to hundreds of his constituents criticizing another elected Representative for planning to be sworn into office with the scripture of his religious faith. Goode wrote:

I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. 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 Koran. . . .

The Ten Commandments and "In God We Trust" are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, "As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office."
Goode's attempt to raise the immigration issue is impertinent; the Representative whom he criticized had ancestors living in America before the U.S. of A. was founded.

In response to criticism of that letter, Goode then issued an even more blatantly unconstitutional statement:
The voters of each Congressional district select the representative that they choose to represent them, and perhaps voters in all districts will now ask prospective candidates whether they will use the Bible, the Koran, or anything else.
When Virgil Goode entered Congress, he took the following oath of office, the current form for the Vice President, Representatives, and Senators:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Such a promise is mandated by the third paragraph of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, 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.
Thus, the very same constitutional article that requires oaths or affirmations also states that there should never be a religious test for a public officeholder in the U.S. of A.—yet Goode is advocating just such a test.

Goode clearly has chosen not to "support and defend the Constitution," nor "bear true faith and allegiance to the same." Instead, he has chosen to ignore and demean one of the Constitution's clear requirements. While criticizing how another elected Representative might take his oath, Virgil Goode broke his own.

To compound the sad irony, Goode represents the part of Virginia that includes Charlottesville and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. Jefferson was of course highly proud of drafting Virginia's statute for religious freedom.


A L R said...

I wonder if he realizes how very little it would mean for a Muslim to make any sort of oath on a Bible ... ?

J. L. Bell said...

It might mean more for a Muslim to swear on a Christian Bible than for a Christian like Virgil Goode (especially one like Virgil Goode) to swear on a Koran. Islam, after all, views Moses and Jesus as prophets who came before Mohammed, and the religions that follow them as forerunners of itself.

TeaTimeTim said...

Sounds to me like another stale male getting all full of himself in an ever diversifying society.

Anonymous Veteran said...

Representative Goode sickens me as a citizen and as a veteran. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our Democracy and his ignorance - his hostility - to it makes him unfil to serve.

He should be impeached.

Women on the Verge said...

Of course he doesn't realize how little it would mean for a Muslim to swear an oath on the Bible cause that would mean he'd actually have to THINK and we all know guys like Virgil strive to avoid that at all cost!

hat said...

I would think, though, that the important thing is not whether it be the Qur'an or the Bible or whatever religious text that is used during the swearing in. I would think that Rep. Ellison would still be able to fulfill his duties with pointed determination and persistance even if he had to swear on someone else's sacred text. I would also hope that Rep. Goode would remember that whatever text is used for the ceremonial event, it is a symbol of the whole weight of the congressman's new responsibilities as a representative of the people who have invested in him their trust and expectations. People would see it as that and nothing less, nothing more.

Robert Muñoz said...

Goode didn't advocate a test, he advocated closing immigration from muslim lands to keep muslims in the minority here.

His statement was hardly unconstitutional. How could it be? Free speech is protected under the first amendment. The Representative still maintains his rights to free speech in office, no?

And, yes, Muslims would have a problem with swearing on a Bible. While Jesus is also an Islamic prophet, they view the Koran as the literal word of God while the Bible was meant as a kind of temporary religious filler until God handed down the Koran. Like everyone else, they take the view it was "Divinely inspired" but outdated and essentially false. Also, like Jews, they don't accept the divinity of Jesus. Seriously, when they say "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet" they pretty much mean it.

J. L. Bell said...

Goode swore to uphold the Constitution, which is quite clear that there should be no religious tests for office-holders. When people wrote him about the manufactured issue of another Representative swearing on the scripture of his faith, Goode did not speak up or even acknowledge that Constitution. Instead, he publicly encouraged voters to use religious affiliation as a test in the voting booth.

TRex said...

You err.
The clause in the Constitution refers to a test by the government to allow eligibility into the office. It does not prohibit the voters from using such a test to determine if a candidate would be suited to represent them. The point of the clause is to prevent such thing as England's requirement that you be a member of the Anglican Church to hold office.


tomrue said...

President Washington set the precedent at his inauguration, but only because he happened to be an Episcopalian. See discussion of the meaning behind Swearing on the Volume of Sacred Law in its original context. (A return link to this site is included.)

J. L. Bell said...

Thank you, Tomrue, for the comment and the link. Washington did indeed use a Bible (presumably a Protestant English translation) when he took the oath of office. That Bible had to be fetched at the last minute, showing that the event organizers hadn't considered it an integral part of the ceremony until then. The evidence that Washington added "So help me God" to the oath prescribed by the Constitution dates from many decades afterward, and contemporary accounts don't mention that phrase. Boston 1775 has a few more entries on Washington's religious statements.

J. L. Bell said...

No, TRex, the article in the Constitution is not limited to the government prescribing religious tests. It is written in the passive voice, and therefore does not specify whom it applies to. Please be more careful in ascribing error.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody else find it ironic that he has chosen to use Thomas Jefferson's Koran?

J. L. Bell said...

The last, anonymous comment refers to how for his ceremonial swearing-in today, Rep. Keith Ellison chose to use a Koran once owned by Thomas Jefferson, now property of the Library of Congress.

In the political tussle to show appreciation for America's constitutional traditions, this looks like game, set, and match for Rep. Ellison.