It is amazing how much churchy cacophony deafens the ears of Americans when it comes to the Bible's place in national life. That kerfuffle over the oops on Obama's oath has gone deafening now, with the crazies screaming at the top of their lungs that the map-room swearing-in was not legally valid because Obama didn't swear on a Bible that time.
The Bible has become such a boogey-man at election time that it's high time for the wing-nuts to be gotten crystal clear on this point. The Bible has NO legal weight in the President's oath.
The wing-nuts need to actually read that document called the Constitution that they talk about so much.
What the Constitution Says
The President's oath of office is described in Article II, Section 1:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Notice that the Constitution doesn't mention the Bible. In fact, the Constitution not only avoids any general establishment of religion, but it also shows that its framers were careful to handle the Bible question. Why? Because the practice of oaths of office was imported from England and had a strong religious connotation in the 1700s. The English crown required any inauguree for civil office to take an oath on the Bible. Why? Because England had established the Anglican Church as the law of the land. So officials had to swear on the King James Bible. Why? It was a good way of keeping Catholics and Quakers out of office, since followers of those religions would not swear Protestant Bible oaths as a manner of principle.
But our Constitutional framers realized they couldn't play that Bible game, with the new U.S.A. shaping up as a nation of many beliefs. So they de-religioned the oath entirely. In other words, the oath is 100-percent secular.
Another interesting point that the wing-nuts never mention: the Constitution allows two options for the inauguree: an oath, or an affirmation. According to the Separation of Church and State Home Page: "The words required by the Constitution are described as an "Oath or Affirmation," and that the President is allowed to simply affirm his faithfulness to the Constitution. The word "affirmation" was inserted in this section precisely to allow Presidents to avoid swearing oaths to God as a condition of taking office. This provision seems particularly intended for Quakers (who had religious objections to taking oaths), but it is worded broadly enough to encompass any person who objects to taking an oath, including non-theists."
Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, who wrote our nation's first commentary on the Constitution, stated that the specific provisions for the oath or affirmation "cut off forever every pretense of any alliance between church and state in the national government."
Down through the years, it has become customary for the Bible to be used in the inauguration ceremony. But custom doesn't add up to a legal mandate.
So when the Chief Justice had Obama re-swear in the map room, he knew what he was doing. That's why he didn't run around to find a Bible.
Meanwhile, some of the 44 Presidents have found different ways of expressing their religious diversity at inauguration time. And guess what...the sky didn't fall. George Washington, a staunch Freemason, took his oath on a Masonic Bible. His dog-eared copy was traditionally brought out for oaths by many succeeding Presidents. But George W. Bush made a point of not swearing on Washington's Masonic Bible, to satisy his kooky constituents who believe that Freemasonry is evil and satanic. Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson swore on Catholic Bibles.
The ultimate rebel was Theodore Roosevelt. Though an Episcopalian, he was fiercely dedicated to separation of church and state, so he didn't swear on a Bible at all. Herbert Hoover, a Quaker, opted for an affiirmation rather than an oath. So did Franklin Pierce. John Quincy Adams swore on a book of law, not the Bible. And like I said, the sky didn't fall.
Oath-of-office kerfuffles also explode at state and local levels. Here, both the Muslim Koran and the Jewish Tanakh have been used several times in oaths for senators and governors. Courtrooms are an issue too. Many Americans believe that you have to swear on a Bible when you testify in court. Not so! All you have to do is raise your hand and swear to tell the truth. And the sky doesn't fall.
A gay friend of mine who is disgusted by the ridiculousness of the Obama oath flap tells me that, if he is elected President, he will swear an oath by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Me, if I were elected President, I would put together a stack of great Western freedom-and-democracy-related documents starting with Plato's Republic, on through the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And I'd opt for an affirmation.
The point is -- the oath's validity, or the affirmation's validity, doesn't come from a bunch of papers. It comes from the elected person's honorable intent to keep a public promise made to millions of Americans.