Several noteworthy people were sworn into office on Wednesday (with the President’s oath getting the greatest media coverage).
Five new elected officials began their tenure this week, and they all made careful selections of religious scriptures on which to swear.
- 1 Do You have to Swear on the Bible to be an Elected Official
- 2 Joe Biden’s Bible has a Dedication to His Wife and Children.
- 3 Kamala Harris, the Vice President, Put Two Holy Books on a Table.
- 4 Senator Raphael Warnock Shown Piety Toward his Spiritual Community.
- 5 In a Senate Debate, Democratic Candidate Jon Oss off Cited the Bible of a Civil Rights Leader.
- 6 In the Senate, Alex Padilla kept a small bit of His Mother with him.
- 7 Former Omissions of Scripture from Oath-Taking Ceremonies
Do You have to Swear on the Bible to be an Elected Official
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and others used Bibles (and in the case of Senator Jon Ossoff, Hebrew Scripture) at their inaugurations this week, and the texts they chose reflect what they value most: family.
Faith. Equality—ideal motifs for a presidency, and by extension, a Congress, that hopes to be known for fostering harmony and healing among the country’s diverse populations.
Joe Biden’s Bible has a Dedication to His Wife and Children.
The Bible used for Vice President Biden’s inauguration has been in his family since the late 1800s and dates back to the 19th century.
Every time Biden has taken an oath of office, from his first Senate swearing in in 1973 to his second swearing in as vice president in 2013, he has used the same five-inch thick Bible with a Celtic cross on the cover.
Similarly, his late son Beau Biden referred to the Bible during his 2007 oath of office as Delaware’s attorney general.
Kamala Harris, the Vice President, Put Two Holy Books on a Table.
The Bible used to swear in Vice President Harris belonged to the first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, and the other Bible belonged to Regina Shelton, Vice President Harris’ former neighbour in California and someone she calls a “second mother.”
Senator Raphael Warnock Shown Piety Toward his Spiritual Community.
The parishioners of Ebenezer Baptist Church presented Rev. Raphael Warnock with a Bible upon his appointment as senior pastor, and he used that Bible to take his oath of office in the United States Senate, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Warnock has been the pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last sermon before his assassination. In July, Rep. John Lewis’ funeral was held in Ebenezer.
In a Senate Debate, Democratic Candidate Jon Oss off Cited the Bible of a Civil Rights Leader.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish senator, was sworn in using a Hebrew Scripture that once belonged to the esteemed Atlanta Rabbi Jacob Rothschild.
Ossoff’s bar mitzvah was held at the Temple, Atlanta’s oldest Jewish congregation, where Rothschild had previously served as rabbi.
As leader of the Temple congregation in the early 20th century, Rothschild spoke out against segregation, worked for racial equality alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and comforted worshippers when the building was attacked.
In the Senate, Alex Padilla kept a small bit of His Mother with him.
Padilla, Harris’s successor, took his oath of office using his mother’s Bible, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
He tweeted following his inauguration, “As the proud son of immigrants from Mexico, I’m dedicated to working as hard as my parents did to build a better future for the next generation.”
Former Omissions of Scripture from Oath-Taking Ceremonies
There is no requirement that Congresspeople swear on the Bible. No religious creed or oath of allegiance is needed to serve in public office, as the Constitution merely requires that officials swear or affirm that they will uphold the Constitution.
Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded William McKinley as president following his death, took the oath without any books or religious texts, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded John F. Kennedy as president after Kennedy’s killing, used a Catholic missal belonging to Kennedy.
It angered several House members when Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, took his oath using a Quran in 2007.
To become the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar took their oaths of office in 2019 with their personal copies of the Quran (though Tlaib considered using Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Muslim text).
Former ambassador to Sweden and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine made headlines in 2014 for her non-legislative swearing-in ceremony.
She did not use a physical copy of the Constitution for her oath, but rather a digital one on her Incredible Kindle e-reader. Since LeVine worked for Microsoft before becoming an ambassador, this may have been a subtle reference to her background there.