When CIA Director John Brennan placed his hand on a copy of the U.S. Constitution last week to take his oath of office, did he defy the very document on which he swore? Absolutely not.
It’s a common misconception that the oath of office for various government positions must be taken on a Bible, but in fact the Constitution does not require it. As my colleague Rob Boston reported in the January issue of Church & State magazine, leaders ranging from presidents to members of Congress have taken the oath of office on everything from legal books to copies of the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita.
The Christian Post reported that shortly after Brennan took office, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that Brennan had been sworn in on “an original draft of the Constitution that had George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it, dating from 1787.”
Earnest said Brennan requested that particular document because he “wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA,” the Post said.
That sounds like a pretty good statement from a man who is responsible for much of the nation’s security. Commitment to constitutional principles and laws is imperative for all governmental office-holders.
But, of course, that just isn’t good enough for some critics. The conservative-tilting Post noted ominously that Brennan “chose to put his hand on a copy of the Constitution – before it included the Bill of Rights – and not a Bible.”
And a publicist for the Pennsylvania Pastors Network said, “While many are focusing on the fact that the Bill of Rights is not included in what Brennan swore on, perhaps more concerning is that Brennan swore only on his own power that he will protect and defend the Constitution. By removing a holy book from the swearing-in ceremony, Brennan failed to invoke God – which is the very definition of an oath; invoking God as one makes a solemn promise – and His power to help in protecting and defending the Constitution, or His wrath should Brennan fail in office.”
Others went so far as to imply that Brennan’s choice suggests he is pro-Islam. Mat Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, which is an offshoot of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University, asked: “Was John Brennan’s choice to take his oath on a version of the Constitution missing the Bill of Rights intentional or coincidental? Only he can answer that question – but it speaks to a very disturbing pattern we are seeing within the Obama administration and his Leftist supporters – the undermining of our Constitution. Also of great concern is the infiltration of pro-Islam government officials, which will surely open the door for the penetration of Sharia into our system of justice.”
This is typical, as the Religious Right often takes umbrage with officials who choose to swear on anything other than a Bible. As Boston noted in his article, when Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a Muslim, was elected to Congress in 2006, he took the oath of office on a Quran. Several right-wing figures went ballistic.
The American Family Association went so far as to advocate for federal legislation requiring members of Congress to swear on Bibles, and then-U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) asserted that Ellison’s act would empower Islamic terrorists.
This is all completely ridiculous, of course. Government officials are chosen to uphold the laws of the United States, not the words of the Bible (or any other religious text).
While there is nothing that prevents officials from being sworn in on a Bible, there’s certainly nothing wrong with following Brennan’s example and honoring the U.S. Constitution. Doing so not only sends a positive message, it frees government from giving the appearance of religious favoritism.
It’s also worth noting that being sworn in on the Bible doesn’t exactly guarantee personal morality. When now disgraced former CIA Director David Petraeus took office, his wife held the Bible on which he swore.
If you snickered at the irony there, you’re not alone.