Friday, December 22, 2006

Congressman stands by remarks about Muslims

Congressman stands by remarks about Muslims
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican lawmaker on Thursday stood by his warning that unless there is a crackdown on immigration, more Muslims like an incoming Minnesota Democrat would place theirs hands on the Koran at congressional swearing-in ceremonies.

Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who has triggered a flurry of criticism in recent days for this stand, said he does not favor banning use of the Koran in such ceremonies.

"But I'm for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives," Goode said in an interview with Fox TV.

Speaking with reporters afterward in his Virginia district, Goode rejected calls that he retract his earlier written remarks and replied "no" when asked if he was a racist.

"Anyone that doesn't jump to the mantra of political correctness is sometimes called that, so they are wrong," Goode said.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who will become the first Muslim U.S. lawmaker when the 110th Congress convenes on January 4, replied, "All of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he's opposed to, which is the terrorists."

In an interview with CNN, Ellison also said he was not angered by Goode's remarks.

"I just think it is a learning gap that we have to close," said Ellison, a native of Detroit who became a Muslim as a young man.


The controversy is mainly symbolic because House members are sworn in as a group with no Bibles or other texts involved.

But in a country where three out of every four people consider themselves Christian, the Bible has traditionally been used in ensuing unofficial ceremonies. These events provide each member with an individual photo opportunity.

The flap arose from a recent letter Goode sent to constituents who had objected to Ellison's plans to place his hand on the Koran at his unofficial swearing-in ceremony.

"I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way," Goode wrote fellow Virginians.

"The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt (my) position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran," Goode wrote.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by (former Democratic) President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country," Goode added.

Goode's comments on Thursday came after the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the biggest Islamic civil rights group in the United States, called on Republicans leaders to repudiate the congressman's "anti-Muslim remarks."

While a number of Democrats in Congress blasted Goode, his fellow Republicans have remained generally quiet.

Even the Virginia Republican Party had no immediate comment, referring calls to the congressman's office.

(additional reporting by Michael Conlon and Donna Smith)