In the contretemps that has erupted over Dennis Prager's call for Keith Ellison to be required to use a Bible, rather than a Koran, for his swearing in to Congress, Mr. Prager is not only wrong but his comments are so outrageous and, by our lights, almost unbelievably ignorant, that one just has to shake one's head in wonder.
The prohibition on a religious test for office under the United States is the most emphatic statement in the entire Constitution, where it appears in Article VI, which provides, among other things, that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." No. Ever. Any. How could the Founders have been any more emphatic?
Article VI goes so far as to excuse the senators and representatives, the members of the state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers both of the United States and the several states from having to take an oath in the first place. It permits them to bind themselves to support the Constitution simply by affirmation. The Founders did this because they fully comprehended the difficulties some religions have with oath taking.
Quakers demur from taking oaths, a fact that was specifically mentioned by, among others, Joseph Story, in his commentaries on the Constitution. Story also wrote that the prohibition on religious tests was "not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many respectable persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation." The prohibition, he wrote, "had a higher object; to cut off for ever every pretence of any alliance between church and state in the national government."
In respect of Keith Ellison, we would, had we lived in Minnesota, have voted against him for Congress, as would, no doubt, many who followed the coverage of his contest on Powerlineblog.com. But not because he would have been the first Muslim in the national legislature. The prospect that a Muslim would someday accede was specifically foreseen by the Founders. It worried William Lancaster in the North Carolina Ratifying Convention, who called on his confreres to remember that "we form a government for millions not yet in existence." But North Carolina ratified a constitution that included the article that forbids any religious test to be required of Mr. Ellison ó or anyone else.