Reform Jewish Leader Criticizes Rep. Goode’s Remarks about Muslim Community
Saperstein: “Your disparaging remarks about Muslims in general and as elected officials combined with your implication that the Koran is an inappropriate sacred text for Muslim Americans to use in a symbolic swearing in ceremony convey a religious test for office.”
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Washington DC December 20, 2006 - In response to a constituent response letter that conveyed a religious test for office letter sent by Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) to a constituent concerning Rep.-elect Keith Ellison’s plan to take his oath of office on the Koran, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent Rep. Goode the following letter:
December 20, 2006
Dear Representative Goode:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis, I write to you today to express deep disappointment and concern about your response to a constituent letter regarding Representative-elect Keith Ellison’s plan to take his oath of office on the Koran. Your disparaging remarks about Muslims in general and as elected officials combined with your implication that the Koran is an inappropriate sacred text for Muslim Americans to use in a symbolic swearing in ceremony convey a religious test for office. These remarks are insensitive at best and signal a fundamental lack of understanding of our nation’s status as a beacon of religious liberty and the Constitution’s ban on such religious tests.
From our earliest days, the United States has proudly served as a refuge for those seeking religious freedom. Today, we are a country with a truly remarkable religious, ethnic and cultural diversity – a distinction to be celebrated. Your comment that “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” is on its face an ugly attack on the millions of Americans who adhere to the teachings of Islam and who are valuable, contributing members of our society. These citizens have the same fundamental rights, including the free exercise of religion, which you enjoy. It also conflates issues of immigration and religion in an unhelpful manner that only inflames ethic/religious stereotypes and appeals to the basest of instincts.
As Jews we remember distinctly our historical experiences of de facto and de jure exclusion from public service. Yet today, as a sign of the acceptance of Jews in this country, it is common to see elected officials, including over forty of your Jewish colleagues in Congress, take their oath of office on the Tanach, the Jewish Bible. It is our sincere hope that Rep.-elect Ellison’s status as the first Muslim member of Congress, and his desire to take his symbolic oath of office on the Koran, will demonstrate to Americans of all faiths, and no faith, that our nation has no religious test for office.
I urge you to issue an apology to Representative-elect Keith Ellison and to the American Muslim community.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the
Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism , whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis , whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .