By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Edward Koch, the former mayor of New York and a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, plans to ask the advisory board to remove columnist and talk radio host Dennis Prager from its membership.
Koch is outraged that Prager has condemned Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) for saying he will take his oath of office -- in a private ceremony after the mass swearing-in -- with his hand on a Koran. A Bible is often used at oaths, and Prager says Ellison is disregarding an American tradition.
Koch said there is no room for a "bigot" on the Holocaust Memorial board, which has a regular meeting on Monday in Washington.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Koch said, "I believe that the great mission of the members of the commission is to spread the word you may not engage in bigotry directed on the basis of religion or on the basis of sexual orientation or on the basis of political disagreement. For Dennis Prager to take the position on Mr. Ellison not using the Bible is wrong. That's the mission of we who are on the board and his statements are 180 degrees from that mission statement."
Prager, a commentator based in Los Angeles, responded, "The centrality of the Bible as the repository of our values is the main issue."
When members of Congress are sworn in, the first ceremony is simply the raising of their right hands. Afterward, in the private reenactment, many take the oath on a Christian Bible; some use a Jewish Bible. There is no requirement that members of Congress take an oath on any holy book.
In interviews in tomorrow's Forward, a Jewish American weekly, Koch and Prager explain their opposing positions. Koch, a former member of Congress, also was interviewed by Prager yesterday on his syndicated conservative radio show.
The debate was generated by Prager, who wrote two columns about his objections to Ellison's choice. On Nov. 28, Prager said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, should not be allowed to swear an oath on the Koran, "not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization." After the media and other talk shows picked up on Prager's position, he wrote, "Keith Ellison's freedom to openly believe and practice Islam and to run for elective office as a Muslim is a direct result of a society molded by the Bible and the people who believed in it, a fact he should be willing to honor as he is sworn in."
After yesterday's discussion with Koch, Prager said in a telephone interview, "I am worried that America is forgetting what made its values so great that a Muslim could have total rights, as well as a Jew, as well as an atheist."
The Holocaust Museum issued a statement that said, "Talk show host Dennis Prager speaks solely for himself. His statements do not reflect the position of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose board is not self-appointed."
Koch has been a member of the 55-member Holocaust Memorial board since April 2005. Prager was appointed by President Bush in September.
For his part, Ellison has learned an early lesson about Washington. His spokesman said he had no comment.