Dec. 21, 2006 -- Congressman Virgil Goode, R-Va., said today he will not retract his letter to constituents that warned "many more Muslims" will be elected unless the country's immigration policies are strengthened.
The letter was written in response to concerns raised by hundreds of constituents regarding the recent declaration by Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., that he would be using a Quran, not a Bible, during his swearing in on Jan. 4. Ellison, who converted to Islam during college, is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress.
"When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran [Quran] in any way," Goode's letter reads.
Goode's letter directly referenced the newly-elected Ellison.
"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 letter said.
Congressmen in Their Own Words
When asked directly during the press conference whether he was against Ellison using the Quran for his swearing in, Goode volleyed to voters in Minnesota's 5th District.
"That's a decision that the voters of that district in Minnesota made when they elected whomever they elected," Goode said.
Rep. Ellison, in an appearance on CNN's Situation Room this afternoon, said he looked forward to meeting the Virginia congressman and that Goode "has a lot to learn about Islam."
"My reaction, externally and internally is the same," Ellison said. "I can honestly say that I'm not angered by Rep. Goode's comments. I just think it's a learning gap we have to close."
Virginia's senior senator, Republican John Warner, also weighed in on the controversy surrounding Goode's letter, saying he respects the right of members of Congress to freely "exercise the religion of their choice, including those of the Islamic faith utilizing the Quran."
Power of the Press
Quotes from Goode's letter circulated the Internet after a Charlottesville newspaper published the letter on its Web site.
District constituent John Cruickshank, who had been mistakenly included on the recipient list and thought the letter was a forgery, said he first contacted Goode's office to confirm that the congressman sent the letter. When a receptionist at Goode's district office confirmed its authenticity, Cruickshank decided to take the letter to the press.
"It reflected intolerance and disrespect for people of the Muslim faith. This is not what I would expect from a congressman in a nation that prides itself on a long tradition of religious freedom," Cruickshank said in a telephone interview.
The Virgil Goode Position on Immigration
Goode's letter also stressed a need for tougher stances on diversity visas as well as both legal and illegal immigration, a position he reaffirmed during the press conference by quoting his own letter.
"I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped," the letter said.
Goode's letter also stressed a need for tougher stances on immigration.
"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country," he wrote.
Ellison's Quran Decision Debated
Goode's letter is just the latest incident surrounding Ellison's decision to use a Quran in his swearing-in ceremony. Earlier this month, conservative voices unleashed their disapproval through blogs, talk radio and cable news shows.
Writing on Townhall.com, Dennis Prager said only a Bible was appropriate for a swearing-in ceremony.
"If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress," Prager wrote.
Still, others ardently defended Ellison's choice as proof of the country's religious tolerance. In a lengthy counterpoint to Prager's posting, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh argued he had misread the American constitutional system.
"A nation should both create a common culture and leave people with the freedom to retain important aspects of other cultures, especially religious cultures," Volokh wrote. "That notion is deeply American, and expressly enshrined in our Constitution."
A Historical Perspective
As ABC News correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg reported earlier this month, Ellison's decision to use a Quran wasn't without precedent. Governmental swearing in ceremonies involve personal choices that politicians have historically chosen to approach in different ways.
For instance, Osman Siddique, a Virginia businessman born in Bangladesh, reportedly used the Quran in 1999 to take the oath as U.S. ambassador to Fiji and three other Pacific nations. The News-India Times reported that Siddique, the first Muslim to serve as a U.S. ambassador abroad, took the oath on both the Bible and the Quran. The Quran was on top, the newspaper said.
Goode Stands by His Words
In response to Goode's letter, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Wednesday calling for an apology.
"Rep. Goode's Islamophobic remarks send a message of intolerance that is unworthy of anyone elected to public office," CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor said.
Goode has no plans to apologize.
"I do not apologize and I do not retract my letter," Goode said today during his press conference. "The letter stands for itself and I support the letter."
ABC News Jan Crawford Greenburg contributed to this report.