It was a big week of change in Washington D.C. The newly elected members of Congress were sworn in, including a record 102 women–35 in the Senate and 67 in the House. The swearing in ceremony that got the most attention was that of new Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Sinema is now the first ever openly bisexual Senator. She is now one of 10 openly LGBTQ members of Congress. Yes, times are changing in D.C., and it’s high time. Congress is supposed to reflect our people. For far too long, Congress has not really looked like America. All that is good, but the thing that captured my imagination from Senator Sinema’s swearing in ceremony was the fact that she chose not to place her hand on a Bible to take the oath of her office, opting instead to use a Constitutional law book. All this was accompanied by the delicious irony of the notoriously homophobic fundamentalist Christian Mike Pence conducting the ceremony. To his credit, he was outwardly gracious, though I’m sure his skin must have been crawling. The fact that Sinema chose a legal book rather than the Bible drew the ire of many right wing Christians on social media. That’s what I want to focus on here.
Before I go on, let me put this out there on the table. I am a Christian, a politically progressive one. Yes, that’s a thing and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger thing every day. As such, I understand and appreciate the concept of separation of Church and State–I treasure it and value it as one of the cornerstones of our nation. Conservatives reading this will argue that those words, “separation of Church and State”, don’t ever appear in the Constitution. They would be correct. It was Thomas Jefferson who talked about the “wall of separation” and that’s where the phrase is rooted. But just because the wording isn’t in the Constitution doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there. The Establishment Clause, found in the 1st Amendment, could not be more clear. The very first words of the Bill of Rights–our most cherished possession as Americans–states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s “religion” not “Christianity”. That means anyone’s religion or lack thereof. It’s as clear as the nose on your face, yet millions of conservative Christians continue to insist that this is a Christian nation and daily push to force it into our government and laws. Is this a Christian nation? Well, yes, but it’s also a Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster nation. It’s always been that way and our Founders made sure to place that idea at the forefront of our list of rights that the government can’t mess with.
The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another.
–Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School
So all this begs the question, why in the world are government officials even allowed to be sworn in by placing their hands on the Christian Bible? Doesn’t that seem completely unconstitutional? They take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the very document that prohibits the establishment of any particular religion. What’s the Bible got to do with that? When Senator Sinema chose to use the law book, it struck me–that should be the only option.
Everyone taking an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States should follow that example.
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