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More than 20 prominent religious leaders have launched an online petition demanding that Rep. Vigil Goode (R-Va) reexamine his opposition to newly-elected Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim from Minnesota, taking his unofficial oath of office using the Qur'an, and to apologize for his statement that, without punitive immigration reform, "there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Qur'an."

The petition warns, "An attack against one religion is an attack against them all. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals. Right now, it is Muslims. It is they who feel targeted by repression and abuse, and they who live among us in a growing climate of fear. ... We hold it to be self-evident that all Americans have the right to practice their faith, whatever it may be, and that any Americans - regardless of race, color or creed - may be elected and sworn into office holding whatever book they consider sacred...We would point out that there are some five million Muslims in the US. 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 petition adds, "In a spirit of reconciliation and peace, we invite Rep. Goode to join with us in an inter-religious delegation to visit a mosque in his district, in order that the healing may begin."

The Goode-Ellison firestorm was triggered by remarks by right-wing talk-show host and writer Dennis Prager, who got the ball rolling about a month ago, arguing that Ellison, Congress' first Muslim, will literally "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 wide assortment of right-wing critics who came forward with similar denunciations. Goode argued that Ellison is proof that we need immigration reform to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.

On swearing-in day last week, 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 Qur'an he used had belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who was a native of Goode's Congressional District.

Earlier, following the en masse swearing in of the 110th Congress - at which no holy book is used - Rep. Goode was seen making his way to Rep. 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 from using the Qu'ran 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."

To block the invading hordes, Goode wants to curtail legal immigration for Middle Easterners, 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, Rev. Cedric A. Harmon of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Joseph C. Hough, Jr. of the Union Theological Seminary, Vincent Isner of Faithful America, a program of the National Council of the Churches of Christ USA, and Rev. Timothy F. Simpson of the Christian Alliance for Progress.

Readers wishing to read the full petition and original signatories can do so at

In a statement, Rep. 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 Goode-Ellison controversy. Only one prominent Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has publicly defended Ellison's Qur'an decision and criticized Rep. Goode. Conservative religious groups have deviated little from promoting their more customary issues, such as opposition to "activist judges" and gay marriage. But 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 original petition signatories, told us, "We were outmaneuvered 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, located in the southwest part of the state, where the largest city is Charlottesville. Like many Southern Democrats, Goode strongly opposed abortion and gun control and vigorously supported the tobacco industry. He is also a long-time opponent of same-sex marriage and gay civil unions. He officially became a Republican in August 2002 before the primary election, making him the first Republican to represent this district since Reconstruction.

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, Va. office of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to making illegal donations to Goode's campaign. Court papers indicated 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 wrong-doing on the part of Goode's campaign.
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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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