Friday, December 22, 2006

Goode for nothing

The distinguished Representative of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District is refusing to apologize for comments he made in a letter to constituents critical of Muslims in the United States and of Congressman-elect Keith Ellison who is a convert to Islam. He held a press conference yesterday in Rocky Mount to answer criticism he has received in response to the letter. According to the Richmond Times-Disptach, he was surrounded by Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies to protect him. The deputies turned away some reporters and barred constituents from the press conference. He refused to answer many questions.

The Congressman’s refusal to reconsider his mean spirited position shows a degree of cowardice. He is afraid of admitting he was wrong. He is afraid of people who are different from him. He is afraid of democracy in any circumstances other than a mono-culture. Virgil Goode’s America would consist of people who look and pray like him. Now that would be distressing.

Of course, Congressman Goode has never been known as an intellectual heavy-weight on Capitol Hill. It is quite possible he has convinced himself he is doing something noble and brave – a lone voice standing against Muslims rushing up our shores and seizing power in Congress: Virgil versus the Muslim hordes. It is a shame he does not have the good sense to realize his antics reflect poorly on the people of his district.

Michael Paul Williams is columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch every thinking person in Richmond reads. This is his take on Virginia’s 5th District Representative:
One thing's for sure: Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. is no Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the basis for the First Amendment, says "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no way diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities."

Goode, R-5th, would ban the Quran and not only keep Muslims out of Congress, but also out of the country.

Goode wrote as much in a diatribe directed at Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress.

"When I raise my hand to take the oath on swearing-in day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way," he wrote in a letter to constituents.

"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 Christian representative from Virginia knows better.

Goode knows Congress is sworn in as a group and no religious book is required. Use of the Quran, Torah, Bible or other holy book would take place during private ceremonies and photo ops.

He realizes Ellison was duly elected by U.S. citizens, not illegal immigrants.

And he knows we are a nation of immigrants founded on the promise of religious freedom.

But Goode, in conflating faith and citizenship, chose to pander. And in Ellison, a U.S.-born convert from Catholicism to Islam, his ramped-up xenophobia found a convenient target.

"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 and to prevent our resources from being swamped," he wrote.

Goode's idea of traditional values and beliefs doesn't include some of the basic tenets of our democracy.

The same applies to talk-show host Glenn Beck, who during his interview of Ellison trampled "innocent until proven guilty" in issuing this challenge: "Sir, prove to me that you are not working for our enemies."

Goode's situation demonstrates once again how the GOP can't quite quit its tawdry embrace of intolerance. It was left to Rep. James P. Moran, D-8th, to state the obvious: "The Founding Fathers never intended religion to be a barrier to federal representation."

The dissonance between the words of Goode and Jefferson was not lost on Imad Damaj, president of the Richmond-based Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs.

"The letter is shocking coming from a congressman," said Damaj, who urged Goode to meet with Muslims in his district. "I hope that the people in Virginia will reaffirm their commitment to religious freedom. This is the birthplace of religious freedom."

Ellison issued a response yesterday to Goode that said: "On January 4th, no matter the faith, gender, or culture of the congressperson, all of us will swear to uphold one Constitution the Constitution of the United States."

As he holds up his right hand, Goode should remember what he's swearing to uphold.

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