Va. Lawmaker's Remarks on Muslims Criticized

Rep. Virgil  Goode Jr. (R-Va.) said  he fears
Rep. Virgil Goode Jr. (R-Va.) said he fears "we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt . . . strict immigration policies." (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.) is coming under sharp criticism for lashing out against the decision by Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who will become the first Muslim member of Congress next month, to use the Koran during a swearing-in ceremony.

In a recent letter to constituents, Goode, a five-term congressman from Rocky Mount, wrote that he does "not subscribe to using the Koran in any way" and added: "The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Goode's remarks and called on him to apologize.

"Congressman Goode's ignorant and divisive statements are an affront to Muslims in his district and to Americans of all faiths who believe in our nation's longstanding traditions of religious tolerance and diversity," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the council.

Goode wrote the letter to constituents who had e-mailed him with concerns about Ellison using the Koran, he said in a written response to questions from The Washington Post. That letter was obtained by the C-Ville Weekly, a Charlottesville newspaper, and posted on its Web site.

"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy . . . allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country," Goode said in the letter. "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

When members of Congress are sworn in, they simply raise their right hand. In a ceremony afterward, they may take the oath of office on a Christian Bible, another religious book or no book at all.

In his written response, Goode said he will not apologize and does not see why his comments could be offensive to some Muslims. "The voters of each Congressional district select the representative that they choose to represent them, and perhaps voters in all districts will now ask prospective candidates whether they will use the Bible, the Koran, or anything else," Goode said.

Ellison, who was born in Detroit, could not be reached to comment.

Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who represents a congressional district with a large Muslim community, yesterday sent Goode a letter challenging his remarks.

"I was greatly disappointed and in fact startled by your recent constituent letter addressing the issue of Representative-elect Keith Ellison using a Koran for his swearing-in ceremony," Pascrell said in the letter. "Your letter also wrongfully equates the issue of immigration with a fear of Muslim integration in our society. I take your remarks as personally offensive to the large community of Muslim-Americans I represent."

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