WASHINGTON – A Republican congressman from Virginia said most people in his district would support the letter he wrote warning that a newly elected representative's decision to use the Koran in taking the oath of office poses a danger to the traditional "values and beliefs" of Americans.
"I believe that the overwhelming majority of voters in my district would prefer the use of the Bible," said Rep. Virgil Goode Jr. in an exclusive interview on FOX News.
Goode responded to constituents who had written to him about Rep.-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Democrat and the first Muslim in Congress, who plans to use the Koran at his swearing-in ceremony.
"What I said in my letter was that I would be bringing the Bible to the swearing-in. I did not subscribe to the Koran and I would not be bringing the Koran into the chamber or swearing-in on it on a ceremonial oath taking," Goode said. Goode is listed as a Baptist in congressional handbooks.
• Read Rep. Goode's Letter Warning About Muslim Immigration
Goode said he doesn’t prohibit Ellison from bringing the Koran into the chamber swearing-in ceremony, but does support immigration policy to prevent a majority of Muslim lawmakers.
“I am for restricting immigration so that we don’t have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives,” Goode said.
Ellison said he wasn't angry over Goode's comments, adding that it's a learning gap that needs to close.
"This is an opportunity for us to have a little civics lesson in America and to help people to really understand the underpinnings of our great country," Ellison said on a cable news show.
Ellison said diversity is a strength of America.
"Let's remember that diversity is a great strength of America. People of all faiths, all cultures, all colors coming together in support of one great nation is a beautiful thing," Ellison said in a statement. "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."
Ellison said he felt compelled to write the letter after concerns raised by constituents.
"We got several hundred e-mails regarding Congressman Ellison and his plan to use the Koran. They are concerned about it and I was responding to it," Goode said, adding that he doesn't know Ellison personally.
Goode's letter drew immediate fire from Islamic groups and House colleagues, including a charge that the letter "promotes misconceptions."
Mukit Hossain, president of the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, called Goode’s letter an “overt attack” on the Muslim community.
“I couldn’t really believe that a U.S. representative would stoop to that level,” Hossain said. “That he would actually say something not only mean, but outright stupid.”
Hossain said there are about 60,000 registered Muslim voters in Virginia.
“I expect a public representative to show more tolerance and moral fiber than Congressman Goode has shown,” Hossain said.
Goode’s positions outlined in the letter encourage other lawmakers and people to think the same way, Hossain said.
“He’s essentially telling people that it’s okay to discriminate or profile against Muslims,” Hossain said.
Goode warned in his letter that more Muslims would be elected to office if Americans didn't adopt his position on immigration.
"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," Goode wrote.
Goode said the United States needs to stop illegal immigration "totally" and reduce legal immigration.
"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.
Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college. He did not return telephone messages left Thursday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Goode to apologize.
“I think it is very distressing because it’s part of a wider pattern that we see of these kind of comments,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR national legislative director.
Saylor said the group wants to see where the Virginia Republican Party stands on the issue and hopes it doesn't don’t support Goode’s comments.
“I’d like to see the Republicans come out and have some sort of response about these remarks,” Saylor said.
Goode spokesman Linwood Duncan said Wednesday no apology was forthcoming.
"The only statement the congressman has is that he stands by the letter," Duncan said.
The letter was made public by John Cruickshank, who had received it after writing to Goode about environmental issues. Duncan said Goode's office sent the letter to Cruickshank by mistake.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who represents a large Muslim population in New Jersey, called Goode's letter prejudicial.
"He's almost providing a litmus test for what it is to be a congressman," Pascrell said. "I don't know where he's coming from."
Pascrell sent a letter on Wednesday to Goode, urging him to meet with Virginia's Muslim community and "learn to dispel misconceptions instead of promoting them."
"Muslim-Americans do not threaten our American values and traditions, in fact they only add to them," Pascrell wrote in the letter.
Pascrell also offered his support to Ellison.
"Keith Ellison serves as a great example of Muslim-Americans in our nation and he does not have to answer to you, to me or anyone else in regards to questions about his faith," Pascrell said.
Pascrell said he hasn't received a response from Goode but hopes he will act and take his comments in good faith.
"I want him to reach out to the Muslim community," Pascrell said.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., said he met with Ellison and believes he is a "man of good values and good character."
"I think one of the great things of this country is that you can have Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and now a Muslim, join the United States Congress and it says a great thing about America," Emanuel said. "And I'm hopeful that Congressman Goode will take the opportunity of the new 110th Congress as we bring change to Washington and bring it in a new direction that he has an opportunity to sit down with Keith Ellison."
• Read Rep. Goode's Letter Warning About Muslim Immigration