A Lesson in Civics

In the United States which of the following is legal to be inducted into civil service:

Placing a hand on the Quran?

Placing a hand on the Bible?

Affirming a willingness to uphold the Constitution?

Using a copy of the Constitution to take the oath of office?

Using a Roman Catholic Missilette to take the oath of office?

The correct answer is “all of the above.”  The Constitution of the United States of America expressly forbids the requirement of a religious text for anyone to be inducted into public office. Article 6 Clause 3 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; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust of the United States.” (Capital letters are quoted directly.)

An individual may use any sacred text or no sacred text, according to religious conviction or absence thereof.  Presumably this means if one belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster one could be sworn in on a box of pasta.

In law, an affirmation is a solemn declaration allowed to those who conscientiously object to taking an oath.  An affirmation has the same legal effect as an oath but is usually taken to avoid the religious implications of an oath. For example, Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take oaths because it violates their religious beliefs.

Those who place their hand on a Bible and swear an oath while having no regard for the actual content of the book is another issue entirely.

For further historic clarification, President Obama took the oath of office on Bibles belonging to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt did not use any sacred book when he took the oath of office.  John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce used a book of law to take the oath of office.  Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office with a Roman Catholic Missilette found aboard Air Force One. Newly elected Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota used a Quran for the optional ceremonial photo, but not for the swearing in.  New York Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo took an oath to uphold the US Constitution by placing her hand upon the Holy Quran.  As a practicing Muslim she holds the Quran to be a sacred text and as such chose this text as authoritative for her life.

If you have a problem with this, read the Quran and the Bible. And of course, study both texts with historically accurate knowledge and with an understanding of both languages in the original texts.  If you have a problem with the Quran, the Sutras, the Vedas, the Bhagivad Gita, the Tenach, Mishnah or Midrash as appropriate sacred texts, do some homework. Then read and understand the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Until then, zip it.

Furthermore, to require a Bible or any sacred text for an oath of office is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the first Amendment to the Constitution. This expressly forbids the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion or non-religion or non-religion over religion.

I recommend some of our judges and legislators review the Constitution and first Amendment. They either have forgotten or are flat out ignoring the requirements of our founding documents. 

As a new and historically diverse group of legislators take their place in our government, these distinctions are of utmost importance.  In this country it has been the tradition to use a Bible, but it is not required.  Tradition does not dictate present or future practice. 

For one to place their hand on a book in which they do not believe makes no sense. It makes far more sense for one to choose the book they adhere to as holy, or use no book at all and simply affirm their willingness to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.  We come dangerously close to merging church and state when one religious book is required over another. It is a bad idea for both political and religious reasons.

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