WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Virginia lawmaker criticized for writing an “Islamophobic” letter to his constituents would be wise to learn more about Islam, the first Muslim elected to Congress said Thursday.
Minnesota Rep.-elect Keith Ellison told CNN that he is not angry about a letter Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode wrote that said Ellison should not be allowed to place his hand on the Quran during his unofficial swearing in ceremony.
“I think the diversity of our country is a great strength,” Ellison told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “It’s a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures to come here.” (Watch Ellison play down Quran flap Video)
Goode wrote that to “preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States,” an immigration overhaul was necessary to avoid “many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Quran.”
Defending his statements Thursday, Goode, a Republican, told Fox News he wants to limit legal immigration.
He also said he wants to do away with “diversity visas,” which he said allowed people into America “not from European countries” and “some terrorist states.”
Ellison responded to Goode’s sentiments by saying that he would like to meet with Goode to talk about Islam and find some “common ground.”
“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 there is no religious test for elective office in America,” Ellison said.
Blitzer asked the new lawmaker-elect directly if thought Goode is a “bigot.”
But Ellison refused to partake in what he characterized as “name calling.”
“I don’t know the fellow and I’d rather just say he has a lot to learn about Islam,” Ellison said.
The congressman-elect said he looks forward to meeting Goode.
“What I’d tell him is that there might be a few things about Muslims that he might want to know,” said Ellison. “He might want to know that Muslims — there are about 5 million in the country — that they are here to support and strengthen America.
“They are nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids, who just want to live and prosper in the American way and that there’s really nothing to fear,” the new lawmaker said. “And that all of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he is opposed to, which is the terrorists, so there is nothing to be afraid of.
“And, that what we should do is to tell our constituents — we should reach to each other and not be against each other and we should find ways for common ground.”
Ellison then said he’d like Goode to reach out to leaders at mosques and synagogues to encourage understanding and tolerance of the country’s variety of religions.
The ‘Virgil Goode’ position
Meanwhile, Goode said at a news conference at the Franklin County Courthouse in Rocky Mount, Virginia, that he feels he said nothing inappropriate.
“I will not be putting my hand on the Quran,” Goode said.
Goode, who represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, said he is receiving more positive comments from constituents than negative.
“One lady told me she thinks I’m doing the right thing on this,” he told Fox News. “I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded.”
In his letter, Goode wrote that strict immigration polices are necessary “to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America.”
“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 Quran,” he wrote.
Virginia’s senior senator, Republican John Warner, said in a statement Thursday that he respects the right of congressional members to freely “exercise the religion of their choice, including those of the Islamic faith utilizing the Quran.”
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat who is Jewish, said Thursday that he hoped Goode would meet with Ellison.
Emanuel said he would “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.”
An ‘Islamophobic’ letter
The Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked Goode to apologize, saying the remarks sent “a message of intolerance that is unworthy of anyone elected to public office.”
“Rep. Goode’s Islamophobic remarks send a message of intolerance that is unworthy of anyone elected to public office,” the council’s Corey Saylor said in a statement. “There can be no reasonable defense for such bigotry.”
Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.
His decision to use the Quran at his ceremonial swearing-in next month prompted criticism from conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager.
The American-Islamic relations council has called for Prager’s removal from the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.