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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Eugene Volokh has a piece at NRO that takes on Prager’s column (noted in my previous post): Eugene Volokh on Constitution & Oaths on National Review Online. In the piece he goes even further into the religious test issues I raised and reminds us that Quakers refuse to swear oaths on the Bible:

What’s more, the Constitution itself expressly recognizes the oath as a religious act that some may have religious compunctions about performing. The religious-test clause is actually part of a longer sentence: “The Senators and Representatives … [and other state and federal officials] shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required ….” The option of giving an affirmation rather than oath reflects the judgment — an early multiculturalist judgment — in favor of accommodating members of some denominations (such as Quakers) who read the Bible as generally prohibiting the swearing of oaths.

The affirmation option was thus one tool to make sure that the law didn’t exclude people of certain religious groups from office, but rather let them retain their religious culture while participating in American civic life. The religious-test clause was another tool. The Constitution itself — a pretty important part of the “value system underl[ying] American civilization” — expressly makes clear that elected officials need not take oaths of office with their hands on any book.

So the Constitution thus already expressly authorizes people not to swear at all, but to affirm, without reference to God or to a sacred work. Atheists and agnostics are thus protected, as well as members of certain Christian groups. Why would Muslims and others not be equally protected from having to perform a religious ritual that expressly invokes a religion in which they do not believe? Under the Constitution, all of them “are incapable of taking an oath on that book,” whether because they are Quakers, atheists, agnostics, or Muslims. Yet all remain entirely free to “serve in Congress.”

He also makes the following amusing (or at least I thought so) point:

Nixon, also a Quaker, did swear, apparently on two Bibles. This didn’t seem to help.


h/t: Hot Air

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Filed under: US Politics | |


  1. I agree with your assessment of the final quote. Quite amusing.

    Comment by Jan — Wednesday, November 29, 2006 @ 7:10 pm

  2. […] (BTW, I dealt with the use of the Koran at Ellison’s private swearing in ceremony here and here). Filed under: US Politics, Religion | |Send TrackBack […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Mr. Ellison’s Strange Letter (Islamophobia Edition) — Thursday, December 21, 2006 @ 9:00 am

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