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.