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How would you swear in an atheist?

December 10, 2006, 11:18 PM

I was listening to the last hour of Bruce Williams‘ December 1 show on my iPod this evening while in the car, and he brought up a topic that I found interesting. In the show, he mentioned that congressman-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN) would be sworn into office using the Koran, which is the holy book of Islam, as he is a Muslim. Now, in researching this a little bit, it turns out that he will not be sworn in using the Koran, as all members are sworn in as a group by the Speaker of the House, with no books involved.

The basic concept was about the use of the Koran. It seems fairly straightforward to me, and Bruce and I seem to be in agreement that if he or any Muslim for that matter, were to be sworn in using the Christian Bible, it wouldn’t mean much to him because it’s not something that is a part of his faith. Likewise for a Christian being sworn in by placing their hand on the Koran.

But the point that I found most interesting was when Bruce brought up the question of what one would use to swear in an atheist, whether to office, to testify, or what have you. He didn’t know. In this case, the use of the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh, or any other religious text for that matter would be irrelevant, because of their lack of belief in any deity. For them, I think it would be about the equivalent of swearing on a copy of that day’s newspaper.

I was thinking about this as I was driving down the road, after Bruce finished his show and played God Bless America. What would an atheist swear or affirm on, if anything? What came to mind to me is a copy of the United States Constitution. It makes perfect sense to me. You’re doing your civic duty, and affirming on the supreme law of the land that you will fulfill your obligations. No deference to any deity of any sort, but rather deference to one’s country and only one’s country. It seems that for an atheist, this would be a very good fit.

I’d be interested to hear what you think. Sound off in my discussion forums.

Web site: Discussion board on the Web site for The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri, where they discussed a similar thing.

Song: Don't have one.

Quote: The Constitution! - Me thinking about it in the car