In theory, there is freedom of religion in the United States. The first amendment of the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In reality, however, many Americans interpret this as “Of course you have the freedom of religion….as long as you’re a believer in some branch of Christianity.” From its very founding, America has had a close bond with Christianity. Does “in God we trust” ring a bell? What about the pledge of allegiance and “one nation, under God”? And, the topic of this article, the use of the Bible to swear people into office.
We live in a different age than George Washington did when he put his hand on that Bible. We live in an age where there is hot debate over the separation of church and state. And often, it is not an equal battle. People became outraged over the idea of a mosque being built near Ground Zero, but at the same time, these same people are fighting to keep God in the pledge and on our currency. Why? Because religion is a touchy topic. It’s an important topic, a matter that is literally greater than life or death; it’s eternal life or eternal death. Naturally, people become passionate and occasionally lose their sense of logic when religion is brought up. This, in itself, is completely normal and expected. People should care about their religious beliefs, it’s important. At the same time, this is exactly why church and state should be kept separate domains. Politics and matters of the state and nation need to logical, rational, and based on what is best for the people, while religion needs to be full of passion and personal beliefs. The two do not always mix well. In fact, they rarely do. Separation of church and state has made its way into the school system already, it should also be put into effect with swearing in ceremonies. Religion should not be part of this political event. Especially with such important matters, it is necessary to go “all or nothing”. Either church and state are completely separated, or they are allowed to intertwine.
There is also the matter of respect for religion and sacrilege. Using one religious book, the Bible can actually be disrespectful to Christianity itself. For a Christian, swearing on the Bible means everything. The person is passionate about his religion and swears on something that means everything to him. For an atheist, or someone of a different religion that does not share the same god, however, this same oath means nothing. He swears on a god that he does not believe on. Is this not disrespectful to both Christianity and the Bible?
Complete separation of church and state, though necessary in my humble opinion, will not happen overnight. It will take a long time. Years upon years, most likely. But compromises can be made. Compromises such as having the person being sworn in choose what he would like to swear on. That way, he will swear on something that means something to him, and the oath will have meaning. Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, and it is simply unfair to make all who take office swear on one religion’s sacred text.