We Swear By Inclusion
There are books we hold sacred, books kept just for display, books so ritually leafed through that the pages are worn and dog-eared. And we’re all for holding onto them, even if they can be recited verbatim from memory; e-books be damned. As to when holding onto books became a thing of political ceremony, however, we’re left with questions.
There is nothing written in the Constitution nor issued by the Supreme Court about politicians placing their hand on any object when being sworn in, let alone the Bible. The guide to proceedings on the House floor and Article VI of the Constitution merely stipulate that members-elect raise their right hand to take an oath or affirmation. While many choose to embrace something sacred, nothing is required by law. What is clearly stated, on the other hand, is that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (despite the oath ending in “so help me God,” of course).
Over the years, those assuming office have chosen dozens of meaningful objects for their swearings-in, including religious texts, naturally, but also historical tomes, family heirlooms, and random objects. From federal to local positions, there’s been a Catholic missal, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go, the Constitution itself, the Bhagavad Gita, a spaghetti strainer, and Uncle Walter’s Bible. In 2007, Keith Ellison, the first American Muslim elected to Congress, placed his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran. Were we the last to find out about Jefferson owning a Quran? Evidently he first became interested in Islam while attending the College of William & Mary and went on to study Arabic on his own. He was known for being curious about international cultures, campaigned for religious freedom, and even hosted the first iftar at the White House, which leaves us to wonder what influence Islam may have had on the founding documents of our nation.
Though it’s not often broadcast by the media, we celebrate the creative license elected for swearing-in ceremonies and our 117th Congress being the most diverse yet. One-quarter of these officials are racial or ethnic minorities, and of those that reported subscribing to a particular belief, 33 are Jewish, nine Mormon, three Muslim, three Unitarian, two Hindu, two Buddhist, and two unaffiliated or other. Praise be!