Bill O’Reilly Debates FFRF Attorney Over Use of Bible in the Inauguration Ceremony

Should a President be sworn into office with a hand on the Bible?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation says no, Bill O’Reilly says yes, and that means the War on (the weeks after) Christmas lives on!

FFRF’s Andrew Seidel played devil’s advocate last night on The O’Reilly Factor:

O’Reilly uses the age-old argument that the Declaration of Independence mentions God, so there’s nothing wrong with using a Bible during the Inauguration. Seidel correctly argues that the Declaration is not a legal document; it’s not where our laws come from; it’s not what we should base our policy off of.

My favorite part may be when O’Reilly tries to retroactively change his question after Seidel demolishes the point he was trying to make:

Bill O’Reilly: Do you know why George Washington wanted the words “God” — “So Help Me God” — in? Do you know why?

Andrew Seidel: George Washington did not say “So Help Me God.” The first recorded instance was 1881, actually. Washington —

O’Reilly: No, if you look in his Inaugural address… it’s peppered… It’s peppered with references to God. George Washington has his Inaugural Address peppered… Go ahead.

Seidel: Washington Irving was the person who started the myth that George Washington said “So Help Me God” at the end of his oath. And actually, the French foreign minister was standing right next to Washington, and it wasn’t said.

O’Reilly (talking over him): No, no, no, it wasn’t “So Help Me God.”

Seidel: No, he didn’t say, “So Help Me God.” That’s correct.

Here’s the truth. When Washington gave his Inaugural Address, he referred to God a number of times (though he never actually used the G word) and he did swear the oath on a Bible. He never said “So Help Me God” but that’s almost an afterthought at that point.

Andrew was right about Washington Irving starting the myth and a French minister not recalling those words being said.

In any case, tradition is never good justification for continuing a bad practice. Our country is not a Christian country. It never was before and it sure as hell isn’t now. To swear an oath on the Bible suggests that non-Christians don’t have a stake in this government and Christians will always be at the top of the food chain. Andrew and FFRF are right to challenge that notion.

Later in the interview, O’Reilly had the gall to ask why the tradition should stop when the majority really wanted it. As if that’s a good enough reason to keep it going:

O’Reilly: My question, and I’ll give you the last word, is: You are in the minority. The folks want the ceremony to include the Bible. Does that matter at all to you?

Seidel: The Bill of Rights exists to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. We are a nation of laws and neither our laws nor our morality are founded upon the Bible. Religion gets its morality from us, not the other way around.

O’Reilly: You think using the Bible at the Inauguration ceremony is tyranny?

Seidel: I think that the Bible exhibits a Bronze-Age morality that treats women as chattel, human beings as property, and punishes innocent children for the crimes of their parents to the third and fourth generations, and that’s just the first set of Ten Commandments!

Well put. It’s not just a bad tradition. It’s a bad book.

It would make far more sense for Presidents to put their hands on the Constitution. That would be properly symbolic and a tradition most theists and atheists could get behind.

(via Mediaite)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Folderol Man

    O’Reilly got his butt kicked on that one.

  • dandaman

    Too early in the AM the watch O’Dicky talk over top of yet another guest. How does he not get up and slap that dumbass.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1446397742 Luke Allport-Cohoon

      this time for purely geographical difficulties; Seidel and O’Reilly are video-conferencing

    • Houndentenor

      Because the guests are fully aware that it’s all for show.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      I like watching O’Reilly make an ass of himself. It’s especially heartening when he loses so badly as he did in this instance. That lawyer was very well prepared.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I’d like to hear arguments for the benefits of swearing an oath on a Bible (or other holy text). I can think of only one.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      The hypocrisy of ignoring Matthew 5:33-37?

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      It’s what the oath-swearer desires?

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        What I had in mind was genuine fear of god. I’m not sure why it wasn’t obvious at the time, but such fear would serve the purpose with or without the Bible. I suppose the presence of a Bible would emphasize the point for Bible believers, and maybe serve as a sort of godly presence.

  • LesterBallard

    The question for O’ Reilly, and Fox News folks, is what if the President, whoever it was, used a Koran or any other non-Judaic-Christian pile of shit. How would they feel then?

    • avalpert

      When Ellison used the Koran as part of his Congressional swearing-in some of the chattering class didn’t take well to it at all – didn’t stop him in the real world though

  • A3Kr0n

    Why does anybody talk to O’Reilly when he doesn’t let them get a word in? He always talks over his guests.

    • Witchgawd

      why would any sane person would go on FAUX news? is the better question. All of their hosts talk over and cut off their guests when they disagree with the point they’re trying to make.

      • A3Kr0n

        I had my question answered today watching David Silverman on The Thinking Atheist. David said he goes on shows like O’Reilly because they lead to other opportunities, like CNN, and to get atheists to watch how horrible they are because atheists wouldn’t watch those shows otherwise. He also said he likes to makes asses of the hosts for their regular viewers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1446397742 Luke Allport-Cohoon

    O’Reilly to Seidel: “I’ll give you the last word.” And that is exactly what didn’t happen. Doesn’t O’Reilly realize how childish and silly he sounds to atheists when speaking of Heaven in terms of inevitability?

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      At least he didn’t imply that Seidel was going to hell. Baby steps.

  • mobathome

    “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn’t place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

    — Jamie Raskin, American law professor at American University, Washington College of Law, in Washington, D.C., testifying before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 1, 2006 in response to a comment that marriage discrimination against homosexuals is required by “God’s law”.

    • Robin

      Brilliant!

  • DougI

    Keep in mind O’Reilly is baffled that that the Korean singer Psy would have lyrics that O’Reilly can’t understand, you know, something that isn’t English. O’Reilly doesn’t understand gravity and that the moon affects the tides. So it isn’t surprising that he thinks a British colonial document is American law before there was a United States of America. He is just a really, really ignorant man. But don’t desire, in 10 years half of his audience will have died of old age.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Kinda like the tides…
    Presidents come in. Presidents go out. You can’t explain that.

  • Octoberfurst

    O’Reilly is a smug but very ignorant man. I love how he talks over guests and doesn’t let them finish their statements. I keep wanting to say, “You know Bill if you would just shut up for 5 seconds you might learn something.” I can’t believe he has one of the top rated shows on cable. Stupid attracts stupid I suppose.

    • Gary

      He’s a smart guy. He knows when someone is making a good argument. He interrupts to purposely cut it off so he doesn’t look bad.

      • allein

        Of course, it doesn’t make him look good, either.

        • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

          Not to those who understand the argument already. But to those who prefer to live life with their eyes closed and fingers in their ears, he provides a “solid grounding” point.

  • http://twitter.com/TweetThatSheet Daniel Brown

    O’Reilly is such an asshole and completely abandoned any credible reporting in this when he blatantly attacked his guest.

    Sarcastically, Bill says “19,000 (members)?! Out of a country of 3 million? How do you handle that?”

  • avalpert

    What an awful idea – the last thing we need is to raise the text of the constitution to fill the symbolic role people associate with the inerrant word of god.

    Either use nothing as they do for Congressional swearing-in (and the can hold whatever they want or nothing at all in their non-raised hand) or use whatever ‘will awaken the conscience’ of the particular oath taker as we do in a Judicial testimony context.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    If O’ Reilly is going to be in heaven I’m going to pray there truly is a hell.

  • bernardaB

    O’Reilly is either confused or lying. The important text is the Oath of Office,

    The wording is specified in Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight:

    Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he
    shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–”I do solemnly swear (or
    affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the
    United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and
    defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    Washington, as well as some other presidents, did not say the words “So help me God” in his oath. HBO mistakenly added those words in its docudrama on Washington. Some presidents did not swear or affirm on the Bible. Wiki has a pretty good history of it.

  • JWH

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that swearing the oath of an office on a Bible is OK by me. Couple reasons:

    The “does it harm anyone?” principle. I can’t put oaths on the Bible in the same category as, say, teacher-led school prayer. I don’t see anybody being forced to participate in a religious ritual. I don’t see religion being used to exclude anybody. So I can’t oppose it with much fervor.

    Individual freedom. When I look at oaths of office, they seem to exist in a zone between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise clause. The Constitution mandates and oath (or affirmation) that is religiously neutral. But when a person takes an oath, he does so by swearing on something that is important to him. If a person considers his holy book important and a symbol of his honor, then I would prefer that he swears on that holy book, rather than swearing on something that I dictate he should swear on.

    It would be nice if presidents didn’t swear their oaths on Bibles. it would be even nicer if I didn’t get the feeling that they did so for the sake of conformity and appearance, rather than genuine personal belief. But I am not in the position to dictate how they take their oaths of office.


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