Fact Check

Did a Muslim Congressman Take His Oath of Office on the Quran Instead of the Bible?

Criticisms of Rep. Keith Ellison's Congressional swearing-in often misstate the actual procedure of the ceremony.

Published Dec. 1, 2006

 (Talk Radio News Service / FLICKR)
Image Via Talk Radio News Service / FLICKR
A newly-elected Muslim Congressman took his oath of office on the Quran instead of the Bible.
What's True

Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota utilized a copy of the Quran for the ceremonial photo op pose with the Speaker of the House following his swearing-in.

What's False

Ellison was not sworn into office with his hand upon a copy of the Quran.

In November 2006, Democrat Keith Ellison won election to the House as a representative of his Minnesota congressional district. When Ellison took office in January 2007, he became the first Muslim member of Congress.

In November 2006, some Americans took offense at Ellison's announcement that he planned to utilize the Quran rather than the Bible at the upcoming Congressional swearing-in ceremonies. (The controversy has since mistakenly become associated with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who is not a Muslim and did not use a Quran in conjunction with a Congressional <NOBR.swearing-in ceremony.)

Among the many who criticized Ellison's announcement was Los Angeles-based talk radio host Dennis Prager, who penned the above-cited editorial in which he opined that Representative-elect Ellison "should not be allowed ... to take his oath of office on the bible of Islam, the Koran" and that "if you are incapable of taking an oath on [the Bible], don't serve in Congress."

A first for America ...The Koran replaces the Bible at swearing-in oath. What book will America base it's values on, the Bible or the Koran?

Please take a moment to read the following TownHall.com column by Dennis Prager, who is a Jew. After reading the column, please forward it to your friends and family.

America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

[Rest of article here.]

While the general basis of the controversy is real, editorials like the one appearing in TownHall.com erred in maintaining that Ellison would be sworn into Congress by taking an oath with his hand upon the Quran. Actually, no Bibles or other religious texts are used during the swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives — incoming House members simply stand in front of the speaker's podium en masse, raise their right hands, and recite an oath in which they swear to uphold the Constitution. Bibles are generally either optionally carried by some new House members during the ceremony or make an appearance only when the newly-sworn Congressmen pose with them during a post-swearing-in photo opportunity with the Speaker of the House:

When newly elected members of Congress raise their right hands to take the oath of office in January, they won't be placing their left hands on the Bible or any other religious text.During official swearing-in ceremonies, newly elected members don't place their hand on any book. However, individual members may choose to carry a sacred text.

"Some members carry a Bible. You don't actually put your hand on a Bible. I can't see how anyone would object to carrying a Qur'an," said Senate historian Don Ritchie.

In Congress, the House speaker administers the oath to members en masse on the House floor. It's up to individual members if they want to hold a religious text, said Fred Beuttler, House deputy historian.

First-time members are more likely to carry a sacred text or have their family and religious leader present for a staged ceremony in the speaker's or their own office, Beuttler said.

Accordingly, although Ellison was not technically sworn in with the Quran, after the official swearing-in ceremony he posed for photographs with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of them posed with their hands upon a copy of the Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson:

A rebuttal to Dennis Prager's editorial written by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh was published by the National Review.


Averill, Brady and Steven Thomma.   "Swearing-In Doesn't Go by the Book."     [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.   1 December 2006.

Frommer, Frederic J.   "Congressman Faulted for Quran at Oath."     Los Angeles Times.   1 December 2006.

Volokh, Eugene.   "Oh Say, Can You Swear on a Koran?"     National Review Online.   29 November 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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