Joseph Cotto, 12/30/2014 [Archive]

Should Politicians Be Sworn in on the Bible?

By Joseph Cotto

Now that dust from the midterms has settled, thousands of politicians-elect are taking office. In the predictably rough climate of American politics, there is serious controversy.

This time, though, the strife has nothing to do with President Obama, Republican primaries, or lobbyists living up to our worst expectations.

The argument is whether incoming public officeholders should continue to be sworn with one hand on a bible, or if they should abandon the use of any religion's holy book in favor of something nonsectarian.

On the left, activists believe that inclusion of religious texts in public ceremonies serves to disenfranchise secular Americans. From their perspective, religious Americans in general, and Christians in particular, are given special preference.

On the right we hear that swearing on a bible is integral to America's character as a Judeo-Christian nation. Forsaking this pastime would be a sign of moral weakness and spiritual impoverishment.

Some would claim atheistic bigotry if tradition were cast aside.

The choice of literature on which to recite an oath is deeply personal. It should depend on the person in question's value set and the signal he or she wishes to send America about these values. What anyone else thinks is unimportant.

Someone gets elected; beliefs and all. His or her decision to be sworn in on this or that document is a matter of conscience.

Snide remarks and crude generalizations about the use of a bible (or lack thereof) are designed to create rancor and resentment, not encourage meaningful discussion. It would be much better to embrace reason.

People today are not inclined to be reasonable. This proves especially true when politics and religion enter the discussion. Generosity and rationality help us solve our problems and conflicts, but it does not seem that most folks want solutions. No small number prefer to nurse grievances, feed martyr complexes, and ultimately fuel anger.

Each of us think differently and see the world in various ways. The U.S. Constitution protects our right not to have other people's beliefs forced upon us, but it doesn't prevent us from being exposed to them.

We should focus on our own lives rather than worry about whether someone taking an oath is doing so in deference to a deity, several of them, or none at all.

If you don't want the Bible used for swearing in a politician, win the office yourself and select Atlas Shrugged, the Avesta, the Declaration of Independence, or perhaps nothing. Possibilities continue well beyond the horizon. At any rate, we should leave each other to make such decisions for ourselves. Is minding our own business really that perilous?

The bottom line is that if our hypothetical politician is a serious, born-again Christian, he or she will be sworn in on a Bible. If this individual is a disciple of Buddha or Voltaire, a completely different publication will suffice.

The former will swear, "So help me God"; the latter will make a "solemn affirmation."

Taking the oath with dedication and honesty is what counts. When all is said and done, if a person sincerely commits to uphold the duties of an office, what else matters?

On that much we should all agree.

——-

Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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