— -- Newly elected congressman Keith Ellison, who'll be the first Muslim to serve in Congress, sparked a heated debate this week after he revealed his plans to use the Quran during his swearing-in ceremony. But the Minnesota Democrat isn't exactly proposing a Biblical change in the way Congress welcomes its members.
Ellison will stand on the House floor, along with all 434 other House members, on Jan. 3 for his official swearing in. He'll raise his right hand and solemnly swear—or affirm--to support and defend the Constitution "so help me God."
His left hand will remain at his side, empty.
"The point is that for what actually happens on the floor of the House, with 435 people, you won't see a Bible, you won't see a Torah, you won't see a Quran," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).
It's during a private ceremony later, when new members of Congress stand with the Speaker and reenact their swearing in, that religious texts sometimes appear. And that's when Congressman Ellison will pick up the Quran--and other new members will bring in their family Bibles or new ones bought just for the occasion.
"That's when you will see a hand on a religious text," said Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House of Representatives. "But that's an informal ceremony for the members or the members' own purposes. It's not the official swearing in ceremony of the House, when no religious text is used."
A spokesman for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) put it a little more bluntly: "The photo op with the speaker is nothing more than a photo op. They are not sworn in then."
Still, Ellison's decision to use the Quran—whether in a public or private ceremony—swept across the Internet and cable news channels this week. Some decried him as un-American and said his decision was undermining American civilization. Dennis Prager, writing on Townhall.com, said only a Bible was appropriate and had this message for Ellison: "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."