Friday, December 22, 2006

Holocaust Museum Rebukes Member for Koran Comment

The New York Times
Holocaust Museum Rebukes Member for Koran Comment

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 — The board that oversees the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here publicly distanced itself on Thursday from a member who recently condemned the first Muslim elected to Congress for planning to use a Koran during the private part of his swearing-in ceremony.

In November, the board member, Dennis Prager, a conservative commentator and radio show host, said that Keith Ellison, the newly elected Muslim member of Congress, should give up his post if he could not take his oath on a Bible, which Mr. Prager said was the traditional religious text of the United States.

In its resolution, the council’s executive committee criticized Mr. Prager’s remarks as “antithetical to the mission of the museum as an institution promoting tolerance and respect for all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”

Mr. Prager, one of 68 members of the board, known as the Holocaust Memorial Council, was appointed to the unpaid post by President Bush, and is serving a five-year term, which expires in 2011, said Andrew Hollinger, a spokesman for the council.

Mr. Hollinger said Mr. Bush had the sole power to remove Mr. Prager.

On Wednesday, Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr., Republican of Virginia, was sharply criticized by Congressional Democrats and Muslim Americans for warning that Mr. Ellison’s election to the House posed a serious threat to the traditional values.

Critics of Mr. Goode and Mr. Prager noted that the Constitution specifically bars any religious screening of members of Congress and that the actual swearing in of those lawmakers occurs without any religious texts. The use of such texts occurs only in private ceremonies that take place after lawmakers have officially sworn to uphold the Constitution.

Mr. Goode stood by his comments on Thursday and told Fox News that he wanted to restrict legal immigration to the United States “so that we don’t have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives.” (Mr. Ellison, a lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student, is an African-American, not an immigrant.)

Mr. Prager said Muslim American groups and others had pressured the museum board. “Everybody knows there’s no bigotry in what I said, but they felt they had to do it,” he said in an interview.

“I completely respect Congressman-Elect Ellison’s right to take an oath on the Koran, and regret any language that suggested otherwise,” Mr. Prager added in a statement, emphasizing that he began reaching out to the Muslims 20 years ago. “My entire effort in the Keith Ellison matter has been to draw attention to the need to acknowledge the Bible as the basis of America’s moral values. Judeo-Christian values are the greatest single protection against another Holocaust.”

In response to questions about Mr. Bush’s reaction to Mr. Prager’s remarks, Nicole M. Guillemard, a spokeswoman for the White House, said by e-mail that President Bush “respects religious freedom and the right to free speech.”

Ms. Guillemard did not respond to questions about whether Mr. Bush believed that Mr. Prager should resign or be removed.