"We would point out that there are some five million Muslims in the U.S.," the petition added. "Many have been here for generations. They are every bit as American as Rep. Goode. Some Americans have also converted to Islam, including Rep. Ellison. We call for a renewed unity among people of conscience and of faith."
The firestorm was triggered when right-wing talk-show host and writer Dennis Prager said that Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. Congress first Muslim, will "undermine American civilization" and "embolden Islamic extremists" if he takes the oath of office on a Koran instead of a Christian Bible.
Rep. Goode was part of a number of right-wing critics who came forward with similar denunciations. He argued that Ellison is proof that we need immigration reform to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.
On swearing-in day, Jan. 4, Rep. Ellison did in fact place his hand on the Muslim holy book in a private ceremony for family, friends and staffers at the Capitol. The Koran he used had belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who was a native of what is now Goode's congressional district.
Earlier in the day, following the mass swearing in of the 110th Congress -- at which no holy book is used -- Goode was seen making his way to Ellison on the floor of the House. The two shook hands, but Goode has refused to retract his statements.
Appearing on Fox's "Your World" program with guest host David Asman, Goode insisted he does not want to forbid Keith Ellison to use the Koran outright. "But," he said, "I am for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives."
Goode wants to curtail legal immigration for people from the Middle East and end diversity visa programs that were created to increase the immigrants from non-European countries.
Religious leaders and organizations backing the petition include Dr. George Hunsinger of the Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches, Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs of the Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs Progressive Faith Foundation, Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago and Rev. Cedric A. Harmon of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a statement, Ellison said, "We seem to have lost the political vision of our founding document -- a vision of inclusion, tolerance and generosity. I do not blame my critics for subscribing to a politics of scarcity and intolerance. However, I believe we all must project a new politics of generosity and inclusion.
"This is the vision of the diverse coalition in my congressional district. My constituents in Minnesota elected me to fight for a new politics in which a loving nation guarantees health care for all of its people; a new politics in which executive pay may not skyrocket while workers do not have enough to care for their families."
He added, "I was elected to articulate a new politics in which no one is cut out of the American dream, not immigrants, not gays, not poor people, not even a Muslim committed to serve his nation."
Right-wing religious groups and the Republican Party have remained largely silent on the controversy. Only one prominent Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has publicly defended Ellison's Koran decision and criticized Goode.
There is mounting evidence that the more inclusive religious communities in the U.S. are determined to make their voices heard.
Princeton's Dr. George Hunsinger, one of the petition signatories, told IPS, "We were out-maneuvered by the religious right. We have a 20-year deficit to make up for. But remember that it wasn't so long ago that the likes of Martin Luther King and Rev. William Sloane Coffin were on the scene. From a Christian point of view, faithfulness is a higher virtue than effectiveness. Which doesn't mean that we can afford to be slackers when it comes to making a difference."
Goode was elected to Congress in 1996 as a Democrat, representing the historically conservative 5th Congressional District of Virginia. Like many Southern Democrats, Goode strongly opposes abortion and gun control and has vigorously supported the tobacco industry.
He is also a long-time opponent of same-sex marriage and civil unions. He switched parties in August 2002 before the primary election, making him the first Republican to represent his district since Reconstruction after the American Civil War.
In 2005, Goode faced questions when a major corporate campaign donor, defense contractor MZM, Inc., was implicated in a bribery scandal that resulted in the criminal conviction and resignation of California congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Although Goode insisted that his relations with MZM were motivated solely by his interest in bringing high-paying skilled jobs to his district, in December of that year he donated the $88,000 received in MZM contributions to regional charities.
In July 2006, Richard Berglund, a former supervisor of the Martinsville, Virginia, office of MZM, pleaded guilty to making illegal donations to Goode's campaign. Court papers indicate that Berglund and MZM owner Mitchell Wade, who previously pleaded guilty, engaged in a scheme to reimburse MZM employees for campaign donations. There was no allegation of wrongdoing on the part of Goode or his campaign.
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Albion Monitor January
9, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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