Religious Minorities

Taking An Oath Of Office? Feel Free To Use Whatever Book You Like.

  Rob Boston

Many elected officials are being sworn into their positions around now, so it’s a good time to remember that nothing in the Constitution or laws of the United States requires taking an oath of office on a Christian Bible.

To be sure, many politicians choose to swear in on a Bible, but it’s not required. In recent years, officeholders have placed their hands on volumes of municipal codes, Dr. Suess books, the U.S. Constitution, copies of the Quran or other documents.

In Pennsylvania, the state’s new governor Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, was on Tuesday sworn in on three Jewish texts, including one book borrowed from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of a deadly 2018 antisemitic attack where a gunman killed 11 people.

Political leaders often choose to use volumes that have historical significance. In Maryland, Wes Moore, who is the state’s first Black governor, yesterday took the oath on a Bible once owned by Frederick Douglass.

New House Member Sworn In On Comic Book

Below a copy of the U.S. Constitution, freshman U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) also held the first issue of a “Superman” comic book on loan from the Library of Congress, a photo of his parents (who died from COVID) and his citizenship certificate – all items he said had personal meaning.

Officeholders can use whatever volume is meaningful for them (or none at all – simply raising your hand is also an option). Why is it necessary to continue pointing this out? Well, some Christian nationalists keep spreading misinformation. In 2006, former U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, placed his hand on a Quran during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony. Some Christian Nationalists insisted that Ellison should not be allowed to use a Quran or that it was even illegal. It happened again in 2019 when U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D.-Mich.) used Qurans during private swearing-in ceremonies.

What The Constitution Says

Christian Nationalists claim to revere the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps they should read what it says about this issue. Article 2, Section 1, deals with the Oath of Office for the president. It lists the wording for the oath – which, by the way, does not end with the words “So help me, God” – but says nothing about Bibles.

Article VI, Section 3, of the Constitution outlines how members of Congress, members of state legislatures and others are to take their oaths. It states, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all execu­tive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” No wording is specified, and no books are mentioned. (Members of Congress are officially sworn in en masse during a brief ceremony, and no books, religious or otherwise, are used, although members may choose to bring a Bible or other book. It is only during private, photo-op ceremonies that books are most commonly used.)

Bottom line: If you’re ever elected to public office, feel free to use a Bible or another religious book for your swearing-in ceremony if that’s meaningful for you. If you prefer the secular route, the Constitution is always an excellent choice. But if you feel like using that copy of The Great Gatsby you read in high school, have at it.

Photo: Maryland Gov. Wes Moore takes the oath of office. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

 

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