There were a number of notable swearings-in on Wednesday (though the President’s oath arguably received the most attention). Aware of the attention their ceremonies would receive, the five elected officials who began their terms this week chose the religious texts they’d take their oaths on with care.
The Bibles — and, in Sen. Jon Ossoff’s case, Hebrew Scripture — that President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and more used for their swearings-in this week reflect the values important to them: Family. Faith. Equality — fitting themes for a presidency, and by extension, a Congress, that seeks to be defined by unity and healing.
President Joe Biden’s Bible honored his family
President Biden was sworn in on a 19th-century Bible that’s been in his family since the late 1800s. Biden has used the five-inch thick Bible with a Celtic cross on its cover every time he’s taken an oath of office, from his first Senate swearing-in in 1973 to his second swearing-in as vice president in 2013.
His late son, Beau Biden, also used the Bible when he was sworn in as Delaware’s attorney general in 2007.
Vice President Kamala Harris stacked two important Bibles
Vice President Harris was sworn in with two Bibles — one that belonged to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice in the nation’s highest court, and another owned by Regina Shelton, Harris’ former neighbor in California whom she considers a “second mother.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock honored his church
The Rev. Raphael Warnock took his oath in the Senate using a Bible gifted to him by members of Ebenezer Baptist Church when he became senior pastor, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Since 2005, Warnock has helmed the historic Atlanta church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached until his assassination. Ebenezer was the site of Rep. John Lewis’ funeral in July.
Sen. Jon Ossoff used the scripture of a civil rights figure
Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia, was sworn in with a Hebrew Scripture that belonged to lauded Atlanta Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Rothschild was former rabbi of the Temple, Atlanta oldest Jewish congregation — also where Ossoff celebrated his bar mitzvah. Rothschild helmed the congregation during the early 20th century, when he denounced segregation, advocated for racial justice alongside MLK and shepherded Temple members after the building was bombed.
Sen. Alex Padilla carried a piece of his mother
The first Latino to represent California in the Senate and Harris’ successor, Padilla took his oath with his mother’s Bible, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“As the proud son of immigrants from Mexico, I’m committed to working as hard as my parents did to build a better future for the next generation,” he tweeted after his swearing-in.
Past swearings-in that skipped the Bible
Members of Congress aren’t bound to using Bibles to take their oaths of office. According to the Constitution, they are only bound “by oath or affirmation” to support the Constitution and no religious text is required as a qualification for office.
Three presidents didn’t use Bibles for their swearings-in: John Quincy Adams used a volume of law; Theodore Roosevelt took his oath without any books or religious texts — he became president after his predecessor WIlliam McKinley died; and Lyndon B. Johnson used a Catholic missal belonging to President John F. Kennedy after Kennedy’s assassination.
In 2007, Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, took his oath with a Quran — a choice that incensed some members of the House at the time. In 2019, Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women in the House of Representatives, were sworn in with their own copies of the Quran (though Tlaib considered using Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Muslim text).
Though not a lawmaker, former ambassador to Sweden and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine made an unusual choice for her 2014 swearing-in. Instead of a physical text, she took her oath with an Amazing Kindle e-reader and a digital version of the Constitution. It may’ve been a wink to her career in tech — before her ambassadorship, LeVine worked for Microsoft.