By Sue Lindsey
Republican Rep. Virgil Goode triggered angry responses from a civil rights group and some colleagues with a letter this month to constituents concerned about a decision by Rep.-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to use the Quran when he is sworn in.
"I will not be putting my hand on the Quran," Goode said at a news conference Thursday at the Franklin County Courthouse.
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."
Goode also told Fox News he wants to limit legal immigration and do away with "diversity visas," which he said let in people "not from European countries" and "some terrorist states."
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 Koran," he wrote.
Ellison said Thursday that Goode and others had nothing to fear about Muslims.
"They are our nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids, who just want to live and prosper in the American way," Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, said Thursday on CNN when asked what he would say to Goode if they met. "All of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he's opposed to, which is terrorists, and so there's nothing for him to be afraid of."
Asked whether he thought Goode was a bigot, Ellison said, "I don't know the fellow, and I'd rather just say that he has a lot to learn about Islam. … I don't want to start any name-calling."
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, saying 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."
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."
Ellison 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.
Associated Press writers Matt Reed in Richmond and Frederic J. Frommer in Washington contributed to this report.