Eric Lander, the new director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was sworn into office June 2, taking the oath of office on a 529-year-old copy of the ancient Jewish text Pirkei Avot, on loan to him by the Library of Congress.

Lander’s action is a reminder that no one can be compelled to swear an oath of office on a Bible. Despite what some Christian nationalists believe, the Constitution does not mandate the use of Bibles. Over the years, public officials have sworn oaths using Muslim and Jewish texts as well as documents from other faiths.

Others have sworn in on copies of the Constitution, legal volumes or other books. In 2019 Kelli Dunaway, a newly elected member of the St. Louis County Council in Missouri, chose to be sworn in on a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, a book by popular children’s author Dr. Seuss.

As Americans United noted on its “Wall of Separation” blog, “Leaving this to individual choice makes perfect sense. Despite the cries of outrage from Christian nationalists, nothing would be gained by compelling people to swear an oath on a religious book that holds no meaning to them. In fact, that would grossly violate the right of conscience and make a mockery of the religious freedom our First Amendment protects.”

 

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