Congress

He's Huge in Antarctica

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The latest ho-hum debate swirling about the blogosphere comes via Dennis Prager's ridiculous column in which he soils himself over the possibility that newly elected Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison might—horrors!—swear his oath on a Koran instead of a Bible.  A few observations:

1)  Obligatory irony citing:  Prager's disregard for the Constitution's prohibition on religious tests for public office looms rather large, given that his complaint centers around the oath members of Congress take to uphold and defend the Constitution.

2) The oath Prager's all worked up about is pretty meaningless to begin with.  Every member of Congress takes this oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.  They then immediately begin passing bills that not only aren't authorized by the Constitution, but don't even go to the trouble of citing what part of the Constitution they've butchered to give themselves authority to pass the bill.  So most of them break the oath within days of taking office.  You'd think Prager would be more upset about, for example, President Bush swearing on a Bible to protect the Constitution, then months later signing a law he conceded he thought was unconstitutional.

3)  That said, if you're going to have an elected official swear on a religious text as part of the oath, wouldn't you rather it be a religious text the official actually believes?  I mean, I could take an oath by swearing on a stack of Dennis Prager columns.  But I wouldn't feel particularly obligated to keep it.

4)  Seems to me that if you think one Muslim congressman taking a meaningless oath by swearing on a Bible "undermines American civilization" (as Prager wrote in his column), you have a pretty low opinion of American civilization (insert "Why does Dennis Prager hate America?" line, here).

Eugene Volkokh slaps Prager around here.

Title comes from Prager's bizarre boast of having "lectured on all 7 continents."

NEXT: Jes Grew

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  1. The best part of this whole ordeal is that you don’t get sworn in to the House with any kind of sacred book….you merely raise your right hand and swear to defend the Constitution.

  2. Volkokh, as usual, gets the best of the argument. The Constitution is very clear; there cannot be a religous test for public office. Requiring the guy to swear on the Bible is a religous test, there is no way around it. To say otherwise is just rediculous.

  3. John beat me to it. What part of “No religious test” does Prager not get?

  4. “ho-hum debate” is right. Here is a better debate, is Prager an idiotic ass, or an assinine idiot?

  5. yeah, I spelled it wrong. Whats it to ya?

  6. Bingo, Tom, the whole pathetic episode is a figment of Prager’s retarded imagination.

  7. yeah, I spelled it wrong. Whats it to ya?

    Actually, ASSinine is probably a superior spelling than the accepted standard.

  8. We do need a spellchecker function, which is not uncommon for various online forums. How about it, Reasonmeisters?

  9. I mean, I could take an oath by swearing on a stack of Dennis Prager columns. But I wouldn’t feel particularly obligated to keep it.

    Wit like this is why Radley is already one of my favorite Reason staff writers only a month into his tenure. (No offense to the other writers.)

  10. So what texts, if any, did our two new Buddhist congressfolk swear on? Did Hank Johnson use the Lotus Sutra? Gosh, I wonder why Prager isn’t up in arms about that.

  11. The latest ho-hum debate

    I’ve never heard of Dennis Prager and I don’t care what he thinks.
    /Debate

  12. We do need a spellchecker function, which is not uncommon for various online forums. How about it, Reasonmeisters?

    Try using the newest Firefox. It automatically spell checks forms, emails, message thread posts, etc.

  13. “centers around”

    On can center on something, or revolve around something; one cannot center around something. The center is center.

  14. So this “commentator” (note I didn’t write moron, coprolite, or whale sperm) has lectured in Antarctica. Won’t somebody think about the penguins?!

  15. Anyone catch the little bit about how the Constitution derives its legitmacy from the Bible. The hell?

  16. The worst is I think Hannity gave this nut airtime last night on H&C, not that I regularly watch that, but I do like to watch religion-oriented controversies…

    Hannity actually said that if you allow someone to swear an oath on a Koran, you will have to let them swear an oath on Mein Kampf.

    This shows his (and Prager’s) true opinion: freedom of religion should only apply to Christianity.

    It’s sad to see how un-enlightened people are today. A constitution like the type which this country was founded upon likely could not be created today in this sort of atmosphere.

  17. I worship Reason Magazine, so can I swear my oath over the Ovas For Sale cover?

    No, because once we allow that, it’s pretty much man-on-dog from there on out.

  18. I think you can boast about getting laid on all seven continents. Especially man-on-dog style.

  19. This shows his (and Prager’s) true opinion: freedom of religion should only apply to Christianity.

    Which is kind of interesting since I thought Prager was Jewish.

    I’m curious, is it actually OK for a Jew to swear on a Christian Bible? How do Jews even feel about swearing oaths* generally?

    *Quaker tradition (my only religious experience) opposes swearing oaths but I don’t know what other sects beileve on this line.

  20. Prager has been featured on Bullshit! before as I recall.

  21. CayugaCthuga,

    Well given your nick, I’d assume you’d want to use the De Vermis Mysteriis.

  22. As someone who’s lived in L.A. for years, I can tell you by experience, any controversy instigated by the name “Dennis Prager” will involve teeth grinding angst over how unbelievably stupid a man can truly be, and still manage to get on the radio and write columns. The peers on his radio station airwaves such as Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, and Laura Ingram look like intellectual giants in comparison.

  23. Isaac Bartram:

    yes, Prager is (was?) Jewish. Remarkably, that has never stopped him from being the preachiest Christianist whacko on Los Angeles radio.

    And yes, he was allowed to blurb on at least one episode of Bullshit! Which was an immediate clue that the boys were involved in some mind fuck of a bullshit experiment themselves, or had a serious research for their show. It would be kinda like Reason quoting Fred Phelps because he feels taxes should be cut, too.

  24. Well, in the Old Testament, numerous oaths were sworn by placing one’s hand on someone else’s balls – although most versions of the Bible euphemize it as “under the thigh”. But somehow I doubt this practice is carried on today.

    Come to think of it, it would be funny to force that sort of vow on Congressmen. Just a little pre-emptive revenge for the damage they’ll surely do later.

  25. Something I keep wondering about. There seems to be an endless supply of these B and C and D Team rightwing gasbags. Not talking about the A-listers like Hannity. It’s all the other guys like Prager, Medved, Hewitt, etc. Presumably in a market economy there must be some demand for this particular product but at some point the market gets saturated right? Why are there so many of these guys and why are they everywhere and getting so much airtime?

    Or it could be wingnut welfare. These guys are all money losers but are kept around with modest subsidies from the Scaife/Regnery/Murdoch/etc complex.

  26. *Quaker tradition (my only religious experience)…

    Badly worded there. Would be better rendered as:

    “*Quaker tradition (my only experience with religion)…”

    I can’t actually recall ever having a “religious experience”. 🙂

  27. Zach — Any authority for that? I’m truly curious.

  28. “Well, in the Old Testament, numerous oaths were sworn by placing one’s hand on someone else’s balls – although most versions of the Bible euphemize it as “under the thigh”.

    I’ve read that that’s actually where the words “Testament” and “Testify” are derived from: “Testes.” Which may also explain why there will never be a third Testament to the bible.

    Anyway, Prager is only slightly less full of shit than Hugh Hewitt.

  29. From the Sermon on the Mount:

    “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

    All together now, in Adam Sandler’s “Water Boy” voice:

    “YOU the devil, Dennis!”

  30. Well, in the Old Testament, numerous oaths were sworn by placing one’s hand on someone else’s balls – although most versions of the Bible euphemize it as “under the thigh”. But somehow I doubt this practice is carried on today.

    Come to think of it, it would be funny to force that sort of vow on Congressmen. Just a little pre-emptive revenge for the damage they’ll surely do later.

    But not Mark Foley.

  31. The old testament of the Bible is basically a repackaging of the Jewish Torah, so it might be more palatable for a Jew to swear an oath on a Bible than for a Muslim to do so.

    Notice that many conservatives use the term “Judeo-Christian values,” implying that they view both Christianity and Judiasm to be acceptable. They are closely related, in that Christianity can be viewed as a form of Judiasm in which the Jewish messiah is believed to have already come (Jesus), whereas Jews believe the messiah has not come yet.

    But if you start to include other religions, you get to a point where they seem as ludicrous as Mein Kampf from their values standpoint.

  32. Yes, Prager is Jewish. And a postmonkey.

    And I was forced to read books by him on two separate occasions in college (“Why the Jews?” in Jewish Religion and “Happiness is a Serious Problem” in an intro philosophy class)… neither of which were particularly bad (or good), and both of which were assigned by profs who were known Democrats. Why they liked Prager so much was beyond me.

  33. Dennis Prager was on an episode of Bullshit! about PETA. Animal rights people are so far gone that they make Prager look reasonable by comparison.

  34. I’m an atheist. Could I just swear my oaths on a copy of Anarchy, State & Utopia?

    Oh, I’m sure that would get Prager’s panties in wad. Especially after atheist agitator Sam Harris slapped him around:
    http://www.jewcy.com/dialogue/monday_why_are_atheists_so_angry_sam_harris

  35. Animal rights people are so far gone that they make Prager look reasonable by comparison.

    And they aren’t doing anything about the penguins being lectured by Dennis Prager!

  36. “Something I keep wondering about. There seems to be an endless supply of these B and C and D Team rightwing gasbags. Not talking about the A-listers like Hannity. It’s all the other guys like Prager, Medved, Hewitt, etc. Presumably in a market economy there must be some demand for this particular product but at some point the market gets saturated right? Why are there so many of these guys and why are they everywhere and getting so much airtime?”

    The thing about liberal pundits is that most of them are, in the scheme of things, so innocuous that they get little attention and seldom say anything so blatantly idiotic that they generate these kind of controversies. Oh, sure, you have leftist dipweasels like Michael Moore and Maureen Dowd who shove their boots in their mouths from time to time, or liberals with jackass personalities that manage to get some attention (James Carville, I mean you!), but E.J. Dionne, Tom Friedman, Anna Quindlen, and their like seldom do anything stupid or asinine enough to get attention. (Not to say liberal pundits aren’t stupid or asenine, just not sufficiently enough to get attention) Thus they sort of blend into the woodwork, though they’re as common as their counterparts on the right, I’d wager.

  37. The truly hilarious thing about his article? The intelliTXT hyperlink for “civilization”. Its first hit is an ad for the computer game Age of Empires.

    Logically, therefore, swearing on the Koran will destroy Age of Empires as we know it.

  38. Franklin Harris, Sam Harris, myself, all damned fundamentalist athiests!

    BTW, Franklin, loved your link.

  39. …there will never be a third Testament to the bible.

    The old testament of the Bible is basically a repackaging of the Jewish Torah, so it might be more palatable for a Jew to swear an oath on a Bible than for a Muslim to do so.

    The Qur’an could be seen as a third testament since Islam is also an Abrahamic religion.

  40. …there will never be a third Testament to the bible…

    The Qur’an could be seen as a third testament since Islam is also an Abrahamic religion.

    I was actually referring more to the root word of “Testes” and the fact that those usually come(!) in pairs, but I take your point.

  41. I got it. I was referring more to the question of whether swearing on a bible was more palatable to a Jew or a Muslim. The “third testament” angle just helped tie it together.

  42. As in the old joke whenever a thirteen-year-old boy gets his hands on a microphone…

    “Testes. Testes. One. Two. Three?!?”

  43. …any controversy instigated by the name “Dennis Prager” will involve teeth grinding angst over how unbelievably stupid a man can truly be, and still manage to get on the radio and write columns…

    Just further evidence of how hopelessly screwed up the broadcast industry continues to be. As a former DJ/talk host, I know literally dozens of genuinely talented people who can’t even get arrested in the secondary markets, while idiots like Prager, Ingraham, etc. get the royal treatment nationwide. This isn’t about politics: it’s about the ability to entertain (or the lack thereof). Not that I’m (ahem) bitter or anything…

  44. I’m an atheist. Could I just swear my oaths on a copy of Anarchy, State & Utopia?

    Actually as a child I was instructed that if ever called upon to give testimony I should ask to affirm rather than swear. By that time courts made allowances for religious crackpots. In earlier times Quakers had gotten into trouble over this, even to the extent of being jailed for contempt.

    Nowadays everyone is off the hook since all oaths now begin, “Do you swear or affirm…”, bibles are no longer present and “so help you God” has been dropped from the end.

    In cases like the oath of office the oath-taker can have it customised to his preferences. Hence when Bush was sworn in “or affirm” was absent, he had his hand on a Bible and the oath ended “so help me God”*. Presumably a Quaker or an atheist could make a pure affirmation without any religious trappings**.

    *I suspect that I believe that this was because he thinks these things play well on television, though, not because he has any sincere religious convictions.

    **I’m sure that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to test this. And Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon don’t count; they weren’t real Quakers.

  45. “You’d think Prager would be more upset about, for example, President Bush swearing on a Bible to protect the Constitution, then months later signing a law he conceded he thought was unconstitutional.”

    Not just Prager, but the entire citizenry. In my view, this is grounds for impeachment as surely as (and more relevantly than) lying under oath about sex. I certainly thought it would be grounds to toss the current Oval occupant out onto the street in 2004. How much did the GOP have to pay the Demos to get them to run a candidate that was even more repulsive than the incumbent?

    What has bothered me about recent Presidents, culminating in GW Bush, is that they not only do things that damage the constitution, but they often make no attempt at all to hide or explain their transgressions — they even draw attention to them, as if daring us to do something about it.

    And we do nothing, not even when it is easy and safe, and elegant: from the privacy of a voting booth. Instead, we come along a couple of years later and install a few new “watchers” in Congress, who then start ginning up talk of a impeachment, which will be horrendously wasteful and damaging, in the unlikely event that it ever does happen.

  46. Truly Curious, I was honestly just repeating something I’d heard and thought to be somewhat-common knowledge. But there’s some corroboration of it here, which refers to “the circumcised membrum of the Patriarch”.

  47. Zach — thanks. Interesting stuff.

  48. A J sub D Hypothesis – The more one researches a religion correlates directly with the one’s disrespect of the same.

  49. J sub D –

    Amen. If a sister in atheism may say so.

  50. Amen. If a sister in atheism may say so.

    My understanding is “Amen” is just saying “the end”, so yeah, you can say that.

  51. Watched an intersting History channel bit on “Banned Books of the Bible” the other night. Very interesting to see how the 4th c. church leaders picked which books to put in the “Official” bible and which ones were left out. Even more interesting to me was how many of the books that were left out of the “official” bible made thier way into the Koran.

  52. Amen = “So be it, truly”.

    BTW, your axiomatic conclusion may come as a bit of a surprise to Christian biblical scholars. I would bet one’s disrespect for a religion correlates more strongly with a lessened desire to research it. Which is why almost everything I know about Christianity, I learned back when I was a Christian.

  53. Watched an intersting History channel bit on “Banned Books of the Bible…”

    That’s the problem with H&R posters. Too much history channel and not enough Desperate Housewives and Survivor viewing.

  54. BTW, your axiomatic conclusion may come as a bit of a surprise to Christian biblical scholars. I would bet one’s disrespect for a religion correlates more strongly with a lessened desire to research it. Which is why almost everything I know about Christianity, I learned back when I was a Christian.

    You’re probably right. That’s why I called it a hypothesis rather than a theory.

  55. “Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison”

    as someone living in Ellison’s district, I find it disheartening to learn he only represents Muslims…

  56. “I’ve read that that’s actually where the words “Testament” and “Testify” are derived from: “Testes.” Which may also explain why there will never be a third Testament to the bible.”

    And therefore, Islam is a lie.

  57. Notice that many conservatives use the term “Judeo-Christian values,” implying that they view both Christianity and Judiasm to be acceptable.

    No, because Jews are still hellbound. It’s just an attempt to defuse criticisms that they’re against the seperation of Church and State. Then when people accuse them of it, they can say “Nu-uh, Jews are OK too!”

  58. Well, I think by “Judeo-Christian” they really just mean the 10 commandments.

  59. Well, I think by “Judeo-Christian” they really just mean the 10 commandments.

    Jesus threw the Old Testament out the window, didn’t he?

  60. Depends who you ask.

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

    Or practically speaking, in terms of modern Christianity, “[Insert desired philosophy here]” – Matthew 5:17.

  61. I can see why Christians would refer to “Judeo-Christian” values, but why would Jews do it?

  62. “I can see why Christians would refer to “Judeo-Christian” values, but why would Jews do it?”

    Because they are are evil and cunning.

  63. Prager gives fundamentalists like me a bad name. In fact, Prager is talking like a liberal.

    It’s *liberals* who want to ignore the actual text of the constitution in favor of an “evolving” interpretation based on unwritten principles pulled out of the interpreter’s butt. That’s what Praeger is doing with Article VI of the Constitution, which says that “[t]he Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religioius Test shall ever be required as a qualfication to any Office or public trust under the United States.”

    Interpreting this to mean “Congressmen must swear on the Bible” is not an interpretation, it’s a constitutional amendment under the guise of interpretation. Prager should leave that sort of thing to the liberals; they’re the experts.

  64. I think I see what you’re getting at, MM.

    The Constitution = That holy Christian document which MM agrees with entirely.

    Interpretations of the Constitution = Satan’s lies as spoken from the lips of his servants, the liberals.

  65. What happened to Praeger?

    When I lived in Los Angeles, about five years ago now, I listened to his show a couple of times, and I was even on it once. (Or maybe I was on the show a couple of times and listened to it once.)

    Anyway, he seemed fairly sane, innocuous, and, to be blunt, boring. Did I just misjudge the man, based on limited exposure? Or did he, like some other relatively sane conservatives, see that the real money was in going apeshit over nothing and move in that direction?

  66. zach,

    “I think I see what you’re getting at, MM.

    “The Constitution = That holy Christian document which MM agrees with entirely.

    “Interpretations of the Constitution = Satan’s lies as spoken from the lips of his servants, the liberals.”

    I was defending a secular, religiously-neutral interpretation of the Constitution, and *disagreeing* with Prager’s wrongheaded, theocratic interpretation . . .

    but other than that, yes, you have paraphrased me accurately.

  67. Charles Oliver

    I seem to recall seeing an attack on the WOD by Prager a couple of years ago. It was something of his from a couple of years before.

    It was connected to something he had just writen about the suffering of the Israelis and how we had to nuke the Palestinians or something or other to end it. (Sorry for the hyperbole, the guyjust brings it out in me.)

    I remember thinking at the time, “What the hell happened to this guy?”

  68. That HotAir/CNN clip loads unbearably slowly on my dial-up connection. What’s the netiquette about letting folks know what bandwidth is required by a video link? Some blog posts send you to objects other than ordinary html text-and-graphics pages without even bothering to tell you that the link is to Flash, pdf, etc. I suppose I could check properties before I hit every link, but life is easier if you tell a person. At least YouTube has the “play it again” option.

    I clicked through the commentary and found Volokh’s argument spelled out in a National Review column. He does make Prager look silly.

    If I ever get sworn in to office, I’ll have a small volume containing the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and some other Great American Documents printed up. I’ll make sure there’s some Tom Paine and anti-Federalist writing in there, too. I’ll hold onto that while affirming.

    Pleae, my fellow Libertarians, if you are ever trusted with office by the voters, don’t attest to your honesty while holding onto a signed copy of Atlas Shrugged, The Red Book of Westmarch, or The Rules of Acquisition. The swearing in is an act of political theatre, even of secular liturgy. The idea is to persuade, not alienate, the constituency.

    Prager was never a lockstep lefty, but he really bonded with the cultural cons after 9/11.

    Kevin

  69. I’m genuinely curious: Has anyone endorsed Prager’s absurd theory of Congressmen having to swear on the Bible (rather than having this one option among many)? Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell?

  70. I don’t understand the reason for a swearing in ceremony. Congressmen are elected. They put their name in, we picked them.

    They should meet up with the HR guys, sign their tax paperwork, pick a health plan, get assigned an office, and clock in.

    Would that be so fucking hard?

  71. People like Prager and Hannity are part of the reason I proudly no longer consider myself a Republican. Their Christian right wing agenda gets in the way of what the forefathers intended for this country. That is a country of moral people, who respect religion and agree that there is a place for it in daily life, but believe it has no place dictating laws of the land.

  72. Okay, I guess SOMEONE should defend Dennis Prager here.

    I’ve listened to Prager off and on since the late Eighties and find much of what he says to be well-reasoned, well-considered and interesting. His insights on Judaism and the subject of happiness are paricularly solid and worthwhile. And he’s very good at drawing the connection between leftist thought and the totalitarian impulse.

    Having written that, he does occasionally spin in some spectacularly silly ways and then defends his position in a particularly testy and nasty way. This inane dust-up over what book Keith Ellison is going to take the ceremonial — and only ceremonial — office is just the latest. A few years ago he actually had Uri Geller on his show and was impressed by the “psychic” charlatan. Then spent the next day’s show railing at all the people who e-mailed him about how James Randi had proven Geller’s fraudulence. In short, Prager is not a man who takes criticism well or lightly. And he’ll defend the indefensible too.

    Still, he’s not the knee jerk, right wing, fundamentaist tool he’s been portrayed by many posters here.

    So there.

  73. I’ve listened to Prager off and on since the late Eighties and find much of what he says to be well-reasoned, well-considered and interesting.

    True enough – which makes it all the more baffling why he feels the need to delve into the kind of looney-tune populism we’re talking about here.
    Now to be fair about it, I know what a bear it can be to come up with something fresh everyday behind the mike and God knows I’ve made some bad calls in my career as a talk jock…

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