The second-greatest moment of yesterday’s Senate election in Alabama was when CNN anchor Jake Tapper had to explain to Ted Crockett, a Roy Moore campaign spokesperson, that you do not have to swear on the Bible when taking the oath of office.
When this fact was explained to him, he sat in stunned silence for a few seconds, like one of those robots on old-school Star Trek who’d just been told a contradictory fact by Captain Kirk:
Crockett valiantly tries to rally by reminding us that he and Trump swore on Bibles when they took their oaths of office, and Tapper pointed out because they’re Christian (well, at least in name), and that was their choice. Tapper had to state that it’s not required by law.
Other politicians have taken their oaths of office by swearing on other documents:
- Bob Scott (mayor of Franklin, North Carolina) and Krysten Sinema (congressperson from Arizona) swore on the U.S. Constitution
- Keith Ellison, first Muslim in Congress, swore on the Qu’ran
- Tulsi Gabbard, first Hindu in Congress, swore on the Bhagavad Gita
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz swore in on the Tanakh
Crockett closed out the interview with a weakly uttered “Merry Christmas”, which sounded rather like a poorly-disguised “fuck you”. It’s funny-sad how these “freedom of religion” guys usually mean “freedom of religion for me, but not for thee.”
If you’re looking for a legal precedent, check out the 1961 Supreme Court ruling for Torcaso v. Watkins. It reaffirmed that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the U.S. state and federal governments from requiring any kind of religious test for public office.
It came about when the governor of the state of Maryland appointed Roy Torcaso, an atheist as a notary public. Maryland’s Constitution at the time required “a declaration of belief in the existence of God” in order for a person to hold “any office of profit or trust in this State”. Torcaso refused to make such a statement, and they revoked the appointment. He took it first to Maryland’s First Circuit Court, and then the Court of Appeals, where he lost both times. It was only when he took it to the United States Supreme Court, which used the ruling from Everson v. Board of Education…
The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.
…and Torcaso — and hey, the rest of us — won the case.