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Lawmaker affirms Muslim remarks

A Virginia congressman defends his call for an immigration crackdown to thwart Koran's use in swearing-in ceremonies.

December 22, 2006|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.) on Thursday stood by his demand for strict immigration controls that he said would prevent Muslims from being elected to Congress and using the Koran during swearing-in ceremonies.

Islamic groups in the United States called on Republicans to repudiate Goode's remarks, which he first made in a letter attacking the use of the holy book in a ceremonial oath-taking next month by the first Muslim elected to the House.

"I do not apologize, and I do not retract my letter," Goode said emphatically during a session Thursday with reporters in the southern Virginia town of Rocky Mount.

Questioned later on Fox News Channel's "Your World," he said, "I am for restricting immigration so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the House of Representatives."

The incoming House member at the center of the controversy, Keith Ellison, told CNN's "The Situation Room" on Thursday that he could trace his ancestors to Louisiana as far back as 1742. "I'm about as American as they come," said Ellison, who converted to Islam in college.

The Minnesota Democrat said he planned to use the Koran only as part of an unofficial individual swearing-in before friends and supporters. That event will follow the official ceremony in which all House members raise their right hands and pledge their allegiance to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, without resting their left hands on anything.

Goode said Thursday that he wrote the letter in response to constituents who e-mailed him about Ellison's decision to use the Koran. In the letter, he said his own ceremony would be different.

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

"If American citizens don't take 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."

In the letter, Goode said he favored halting illegal immigration and strictly curtailing legal immigration. In particular, he noted, he would halt the 50,000 "diversity visas" set aside each year for people from countries with few immigrants to the United States, saying they allow "many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."

"I fear," he wrote, "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."

Goode's letter was dated Dec. 7 but only became public this week. Republican officeholders and the Republican National Committee have kept silent about Goode's comments, but Muslim organizations castigated him for religious insensitivity -- and worse.

"Statements such as Rep. Goode's incite fear and mistrust between communities and misrepresent the contribution of a large segment of the American people," James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, said in a statement.

His group called on Goode to apologize, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked state and national Republican leaders to repudiate Goode's remarks.

An RNC spokeswoman said the committee had nothing to say about the issue. Neither outgoing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) nor his staff was available for comment.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the committee that helped his party recapture control of the House last month, said he hoped Goode would meet with Ellison.

"I think ... he'll see what I saw -- a good American with good values, of a different faith, who's trying to do right by the people he represents," Emanuel told Fox News Channel.

Goode is not the first Virginia Republican to talk his way into controversy in recent months. In August, Sen. George Allen used the word "macaca" -- which was perceived as a racial slur -- to refer to a volunteer of Indian descent who was working for his opponent, Democrat Jim Webb. Before he made that comment, which was caught on videotape and posted on the Internet, Allen held a large lead in the polls; he lost a cliffhanger election in November.

Ellison had little to say about the current controversy, instead urging all sides to pay attention to the one document to which everyone at the swearing-in of the new Congress subscribes.

"We all support one Constitution: one Constitution that upholds our right to equal protection, one Constitution that guarantees us due process under the law, one Constitution which says that there is no religious test for elected office in America," he told CNN.

joel.havemann@latimes.com

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