Taking the oath of office on the Bible

Published 1:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Inauguration Day, our governor and other state officeholders took their oaths of office on a special Bible more than 150 years old.

The Alabama State Archives displays the “The State Bible” inside a small, glass case for citizens to see, except for the day our state officials are sworn in.

Every Alabama governor since John A. Winston in 1853 has taken the oath of office on this brown leather book with gold edging on its pages.

Though larger than a Birmingham phone book, the State Bible carries more weight figuratively than literally.

I believe the Bible is appropriate for swearing in our leaders.

When you think about it, what other book compares to the truth represented by the Bible?

It’s a timeless book with eternal value, not found in a dictionary or encyclopedia.

On its pages are words like the Ten Commandments, the foundation of our law and moral code, and other God-given principles to live by.

There’s history behind taking an oath of office on the Bible, according to the book A Guide to the Presidency.

Our first president, George Washington, took his oath of office “with his left hand placed on the Bible and his right hand raised toward heaven.

“Although not required by the Constitution, the practice of taking oaths upon Bibles was deeply ingrained in English and American Colonial history,” the book states.

The tradition goes back for centuries when the kings and queens of Britain took their coronation oaths on the Bible.

At George Washington’s first inauguration, the Chief Justice of the New York state judiciary hurriedly found a Bible, because someone forgot to bring one.

Justice Robert R. Livingstone, who administered the oath to Washington, “feared the oath would lack legitimacy without a Bible.”

There is no definite record of a Bible being used again at a presidential swearing-in ceremony until James K. Polk’s inauguration in 1845, although it is believed that Andrew Jackson used one in 1829 and again in 1833.

“Since James Buchanan in 1857, every president has taken the oath of office on a Bible except for Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, when he was hastily sworn in after the assassination of William McKinley,” according to historians.

I can remember watching President Johnson take the oath of office on a Bible aboard Air Force One after John Kennedy’s assassination.

The Bible used at Washington’s swearing in was randomly opened to Genesis 49-50. Franklin Roosevelt’s Bible was opened to 1 Corinthians 13 for all four inaugurals. Richard Nixon, entering office during the Vietnam War in 1969, placed his hand on Isaiah 2:4…”and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

We need to pray for our leaders every day and they should make the last four words of the oath of office, “So help me God,” their daily prayer. The Bible should not be used just on Inauguration Day; our leaders should seek guidance for decision-making from the Bible to help them govern our state and nation.