My friend Mr. B. forwarded me a link to this essay
. It refers to an op-ed piece written about the Muslim congressman Keith Ellison. The congressman asked to swear his oath of office on a Qur’an instead of on a bible. The op-ed is written by Dennis Prager and published in Town Hall. Prager insists that Ellison should be forced to swear on the bible. I would link to it but the site is full of a bunch of pop-ups and crap. You can google it if you care.
Normally I would ignore this article b/c it’s so asinine but this problem has come up in other circumstances. Not that long ago
a North Carolina judge refused to let a Muslim swear on a Qur’an before testifying. He insisted that the Muslim swear on the bible.
The feeling is that somehow this undermines American values. But this totally misses the point. The point has nothing to do with American values. The point is that we want the oaths solemnized. We want to encourage people to uphold their oaths. It is in no way to promote the bible or any other book or to officially enshrine it in the U.S. government.
Lying under oath hinders the court’s pursuit of the truth and deprives the community of justice. When a congressman forsakes his oath it can have even broader consequences. Go back and look at the civil war for an instance of a number of congressmen forsaking their oath to the Constitution. These oaths are important and we want to do all that we can to ensure that people uphold them.
This country has always had a Christian majority. Christians have held the majority of public offices and given the majority of the testimony in court. It makes sense for a Christian to swear an oath on the bible. The bible is a sacred text to that religious tradition. By swearing an oath on something sacred the person is then encouraged to live up to that oath. To violate an oath would be a sin in and of its self, but to violate an oath sworn on a bible would be a second and more significant sin. To avoid putting their immortal soul in jeopardy a Christian would be extra scrupulous in upholding an oath sworn on a bible. This is the point. We want to encourage people to be extra scrupulous in upholding these oaths b/c of their impact on the public at large. Since the majority of people are Christians, the bible is the easiest thing to find that most people can agree on and will serve the purpose of solemnizing the oath.
Now, with that understanding, does it make sense to have a person swear on something that does not hold meaning to them? Would you take something more seriously if you were forced to swear an oath on Mad Magazine? Of course not, that’s why the courts long ago realized that it makes sense to let atheists or non Christians swear oaths to tell the truth without the bible or saying, “so help me god”. In that instance the bible would actually trivialize the oath.
You may say, “Antonio, you heaven bastard, prepare for the fires of hell. But while you do that how can you be so sure that a secondary reason for swearing an oath on a bible isn’t to uphold American values?”
That’s easy to answer. First, read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of the bible as enshrining American values. The Declaration of Independence laid out American values. As I’m sure everyone remembers those values would be “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. You won’t find that phrase in the bible. You find something pretty close to it in Locke’s Second Treatise on Government ("life, liberty, and estate" I think) and Adam Smith used the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property”. Second, the oath doesn’t say anything about the bible. The oath, in the context of congressmen, specifically is to support the Constitution. Check out Article VI, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution.
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 under the United States.
I think if Prager or this Wildmon joker had bothered to live up to some of those American values and had actually read the Constitution they would have noticed that little religious test section. It’s that little phrase at the end of the Clause 3 that prohibits a religious test, a test like forcing people to swear on the bible.