Sworn in by the Constitution.

Her aversion to being branded an atheist aside, I’m kinda warming up to Kyrsten Sinema.

This week, as members of the 113th Congress were sworn in, Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D – Ariz.) drew attention as she placed her hand over a copy of the United States Constitution, instead of the Holy Bible. The last time this change of pace occurred was in 2007 when Keith Ellison (D – Minn.) requested to be sworn in using the Quran.

That’s pretty badass.  Good for her.

This commentary by the article’s author drives me up a tree.

Although the Bible is traditionally used in swearing in ceremonies, does it really make sense? Our nation was founded on Christian values, but we are a secular state. It seems legitimate that elected officials be sworn in using the Constitution, as it is their ultimate model for governance. As a diverse country, Americans subscribe to a variety of beliefs, but the Constitution is something we all value.

This is a crock.  Of the ten commandments, two (three if you count perjury as a prohibition against lying, but police are allowed to lie to you so I don’t count it) are enshrined in our laws.  What’s more, those two (don’t steal, don’t murder) are not Christian values, as societies long before Christianity was ever a thing had that shit figured out.

And we all value the Constitution?  Oh, I’m not so sure.  The “we’re so patriotic and we love America and the Constitution so much and we fight terrorism” crowd doesn’t seem so keen on abiding by the Constitution when it doesn’t suit their religious interests.


About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Rovin’ Rockhound

    The “founded on Christian values” part is ridiculous, yes, but otherwise it’s a pretty awesome comment from the author. Recognizing that, regardless of what it is he believes, the constitution is what ties everyone together is quite enlightened.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Hang on.

    As a non-American looking in, I always thought the whole ‘founded on Christian values’ thing was completely a-historical crazy talk. And, from what I understand of how America was actually founded, also technically unpatriotic (although I do think that patriotism is an over-hyped virtue to begin with).

    So it was confusing to me why so many Americans say that when it seems so transparently false to a non-American like me, who by rights should be more ignorant of American history than the people saying that America is founded on Christian values.

    But I just noticed something.

    1) America was founded on a set of values
    2) The source of all value is Christianity
    3) America was founded on a set of Christian values.

    Premise 1) is correct, premise 2) is incorrect. But if we grant 2) for the sake of argument (and make some concessions about the use of ‘Christian’ as an adjective in this context) the conclusion follows.

    Is it really that simple?

    If so, why did I not realize this before?

    • Glodson

      You are over-thinking it. Really. While the wingnuts that believe their magical religion is the source of all values, they are more direct in their interpretation of history. With quote mines and distortions, they argue that the Constitution was based directly off of the Bible, and that the Founders fully intended for the US to be a Christian Theocracy. But somehow didn’t get around to mentioning it. And this ignores the history of the colonies, and even the history of England that led up the the establishment of the colonies.

      This is why there’s such distortions to paint Thomas Jefferson as a Christian, rather than a deist. Or why many wingnuts blatantly ignore the fact that even the Christian Founders were secularists.

      The argument you present is much more coherent, but since premise 2 is easily shown to be faulty, the wingnuts go for the big lies in the hopes they’ll stick. Here in the state of TX, these distortions are trying to be forced into schools, because get them while they’re young… Goddamnit.

      • Daniel Schealler


        I would’ve thought that the quote-mine and distortions and claiming the Constitution is based on the Bible would be easier to show to be faulty than premise 2. We actually have physical texts and copies of the constitution and Bible to look at and study, it’s empirical history and textual analysis.

        Premise 2 is a metaphysical assumption that can’t be directly measured, which makes it harder to disprove in the mind of someone who already accepts it as ‘obvious’ or ‘self-evident’. In my experience those tend to be the hardest things to get people to question. They don’t see that an assumption has been made, because assumptions such as 2) are part of what they use to see with.

        But you’re probably right that I’m over-thinking it. I have a history of doing that.

        • Glodson

          The distortions and lies are the work a few that get parroted. David Barton is a great source of this dishonesty. He makes the claim, and the believers don’t even bother to check up on him.

          I think you nail it when you say that your second premise is metaphysical. They don’t want something that is open for interpretation. In a odd way, they want it to be a solid argument. The Christian Theocrats here who push this idea the hardest want so desperately for their narrative to be true. Your argument is simpler, but it doesn’t fit with the narrative that says the Founders wanted to establish Christianity as the religion, and based their country off of their religious views.

          Living in the same state as the goddamned Wallbuilders, I hear too much of this nonsense. They aren’t trying to make a philosophical argument about the source of value. They are trying to change how history is seen. In a way, this is related to what Rick Santorum said as reported in a different posting. Hell, this state’s GOP made removing teaching “critical thinking skills” a part of their state platform. Education is an anathema to these people, and anyone with a passing understanding of the history of this country would spot the bullshit a mile away.

  • Tyro

    Good for her!

  • Das Boese

    Swearing an oath on a secular document instead of a book filled with stories of dubious moral value is certainly a step forward.

    But it got me thinking again, especially in the light of the ongoing discussion about the second amendment, of how it often seems like Americans worship their constitution much in the same way as a holy book, i.e. it describes a set of eternal truths and unchangeable rules that are above questioning even in the face of technological progress and the social changes it brings. Also, like the bible, actual understanding of the content is not required (it may indeed be a hindrace!) in order to claim that it supports your argument.

    • Das Boese

      D’oh. In case it’s not clear from my wording, I’m not an American ;)

  • Andrew Kohler

    One quick note: actually, the final version of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 35, after the whole smashing tablets hissy fit business) and the only list called the “10 commandments” in the book, has no prohibitions on murder, theft, or bearing false witness against thy neighbor (the last of which Hitchens noted is unusually thoughtful and profound, and I agree). The only ones retained from Exodus 20 are the crap about idolatry and the Sabbath day (which would be a nice idea if you didn’t have to worship god the whole damn day). If they’re going to whine about putting this crap in courthouses and such, at least they should get the right list! And actually, it almost would be worth the violation of the First Amendment just to witness the confusion ;-) (Maybe leave it up for a week or so, just to see Fox News’s reaction?)