ANDRÉA SEABROOK, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I’m Andrea Seabrook.

Republican Congressman Virgil Goode is standing by a letter he wrote to constituents, warning of an influx of Muslims and Muslim-elected officials if tighter immigration policies aren’t put into place. Some have called Goode’s comments bigoted, since they attack the nation’s first Muslim congressman, who plans to use the Koran for his ceremonial swearing-in next week.
NPR’S Allison Keyes has this report.

ALLISON KEYES: The drama started last week, when Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode dashed off a letter to calm his constituents. Goode says that Virginians were concerned because incoming Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison has said he’ll use the Koran at his ceremonial swearing in ceremony.

Representative VIRGIL GOODE (Republican, Virginia): Printed media and other media indicated that Mr. Ellison was going to use the Koran, and that generated scores and hundreds of emails to my office. And so I thought it very important to state my view. And my view is that I don’t subscribe to the Koran, and I will now be using the Bible when I take the oath. . .

KEYES: Several other Democrats, including New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, responded with outrage.

Representative BILL PASCRELL (Democrat, New Jersey): This is very un-American. This is very un-patriotic.

KEYES: Pascrell dashed off a letter to Goode upon hearing about the controversy, and says he urged his Virginia colleague to apologize to the Muslim community for insulting them. Pascrell says there’s nothing but prejudice in Goode’s missive.

Rep. PASCRELL: It is on the – almost on the edge of being a bigoted letter.

KEYES: Pascrell says he’s considering whether there’s something more he and his congressional colleagues can do to show their displeasure. The House can take official action against members. Back in 1832, Ohio Congressman William Stanberry was censured for insulting the speaker of the House. Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank was reprimanded in 1990 for using his political influence to fix parking tickets. And three members were expelled from the House in 1861 for taking up arms against the United States.

The nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Relations, isn’t calling on Congress to do anything. CAIR national legislative director Corey Saylor.

Mr. COREY SAYLOR (CAIR): You know what I’d like to see is, I’d like to see Representative-Elect Ellison take his oath, which is, you know, you raise your right hand and you take your oath, and then be allowed to go about the business of serving his district. His faith really doesn’t play any role in this, nor does the faith of any other member of Congress.

KEYES: But that doesn’t mean the group isn’t annoyed with what Saylor calls bigotry. Saylor says he can’t believe Goode was surprised that people were offended.

Mr. SAYLOR: I think this is a standard case of Islamophobia that we see fairly frequently. What’s particularly disturbing is this is a sitting elected member of Congress.

KEYES: Saylor says his group is also disturbed that neither the Virginia state Republican Party nor the Republican National Committee distanced themselves from Goode’s comments. Virginia GOP officials could not be reached for comment, and the RNC did not return a call for comment.


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