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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2007

'What happened to ... religious tolerance?'

 •  Hirono joins House with hope for change

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, used Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Quran during the re-enactment of his swearing-in ceremony yesterday on Capitol Hill, sparking some controversy. Library of Congress President James Billington presented the Quran to Ellison's wife, Kim.

LAWRENCE JACKSON | Associated Press

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WASHINGTON While a new Muslim member of Congress sparked controversy for taking his photo-op oath of office with a Quran instead of a Bible, Rep. Mazie Hirono was sworn in yesterday with no book at all.

Hirono, who was raised in the Buddhist tradition but doesn't actively practice the religion, said, "I don't have a book. ... But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty."

Members of the House for the 110th Congress were sworn in en masse, then had individual mock swearing-in ceremonies with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). For this, members can rest a hand on a Bible while taking the mock oath, but they're not required to do so.

Families in tow, the members of Congress one-by-one raised their right hand and rested the other on a religious text, as if making a pledge, and had their pictures taken for the folks back home.

Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and native of Detroit, took his oath on a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Prior to his taking the oath, he was criticized by Virginia Republican Virgil Goode, who warned of an influx of Muslims being elected to public office.

In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Goode wrote, "I believe that if we do not stop illegal immigration totally, reduce legal immigration and end diversity visas, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world."

Of the controversy, Hirono said, "It's about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress. I think Keith Ellison really handled things well. I think that whole discussion, if you want to call it that, is good for our country.

"What happened to separation of church and state and religious tolerance? I believe in those things."

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.