Mariah Parker is sworn in on Monday as an Athens-Clarke County commissioner while putting her hand over "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." (Courtesy of Mariah Parker)
Photo: Courtesy of Mariah Parker
Photo: Courtesy of Mariah Parker

Photos: Swearing-in ceremonies with no Bible

You don't need a Bible to be sworn into office. Here's what some American politicians used instead.

Not everyone uses a Bible when they're sworn into office. And this is how the U.S. Constitution intended it. See for yourself in Article VI, Clause 3, which states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification" for taking office anywhere in the U.S. 

The custom of using a Bible during Presidential inaugurations goes back only as far as Abraham Lincoln's 1861 ceremony, according to the National Constitution Center. Although it's known that George Washington swore his oath on one, there's no record that Presidents 2-15 followed that precedent. 

Here's what some Americans used over the years besides the Good Book to take their oaths. 

Mariah Parker is sworn in on Monday as an Athens-Clarke County commissioner while putting her hand over "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." (Raphaëla Alemán)
Photo: Raphaëla Alemán

"THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X" (Mariah Parker, 2018): On Monday, Parker became the newest member of the Athens-Clarke County commissioners with her fist held high and her hand on the classic text co-written by Alex Haley. Parker, a 26-year-old doctoral student, was joined by her mother Mattie Parker, who held the battered paperback. "They asked if they would like the Bible and I said no," Parker said. "My mother asked if there was a copy of the Constitution around. No. I wanted Malcolm's book. I think they saw it coming." 

John Quincy Adams, the nation's sixth president, was sworn in over a law book. (Library of Congress)
Photo: Library of Congress

A BOOK OF LAW (John Quincy Adams, 1825): Few accounts exist of what the first presidents used to swear their oaths by, with the exception of the junior Adams. In later recollections, Adams stated that he used a volume of law which included a copy of the Constitution. His inauguration was also notable for being the first where the new president wore pants rather than knee breeches. 

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Suzi LeVine as the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in 2014. (U.S. State Dept.)
Photo: U.S. State Department

A KINDLE (Suzi LeVine, 2014): The new U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein knew exactly what she was doing when she was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden. Her son and husband held her Kindle Touch e-reader, which was open to display the 19th Amendment of the Constitution. She later told the New Yorker magazine that, "I wanted to use a copy that is from the twenty-first century, and that reflects my passion for technology and my hope for the future." 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) administers the House oath to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Capitol Hill in 2007. Ellison's wife Kim holds Thomas Jefferson's Quran which was provided by the Library of Congress. (Lawrence Jackson / AP file)
Photo: Lawrence Jackson/AP

A QURAN (Keith Ellison, 2007): Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, took his oath with his hand over an English translation of the Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. The 1764 volume was delivered by the Library of Congress, which brought the book through a network of tunnels despite the library being conveniently across the street from the ceremony. Ellison brushed off any controversy that the Quran caused. "Look, we're trying to build bridges," he told the Washington Post. "We don't want issues of misunderstanding and division to exist if they don't have to." 

This illustration from 1901 shows Theodore Roosevelt taking the oath of office in the library of the home of Ansley Wilcox in Buffalo, N.Y. (National Parks Service)
Photo: National Parks Service

NOTHING (Theodore Roosevelt, 1901): In the chaotic wake of President William McKinley's assassination, Roosevelt was called back from a family hike to the home of Ansley Wilcox in Buffalo, N.Y. The ceremony, held in the Wilcox library, was brief and informal. Roosevelt wore borrowed clothing and issued a quick statement before launching into the oath. Only later was it noted that no Bible was used. 

A recent image of the Ansley Wilcox House library, where Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1901. (Jennifer Brett / jbrett@ajc.com)
Photo: jbrett@ajc.com
Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as President of the United States of America in the cabin of the presidential plane as Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy stands at his side on Nov. 22, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton / White House)
Photo: CECIL STOUGHTON/AP

A MISSAL (Lyndon Johnson, 1963): Another assassination, another chaotic swearing-in ceremony. Johnson took his first oath of office on Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas hours after the killing of John F. Kennedy. Staffers couldn't find a Bible but were able to get a missal (a book of Catholic prayers) from Kennedy's bedstand on the plane. With his hand on the missal, Johnson took his oath with Jackie Kennedy by his side. 

A BIBLE APP ON AN IPAD (The Atlantic City Fire Dept., 2013): No one remembered to bring a Bible to this promotion ceremony for members of the Atlantic City Fire Department but someone with an iPad knew what to do. The group agreed to download a Bible app onto the device and swear over a digital version of the sacred text. A similar instance occurred in 2014 on Long Island, when Edward Mangano was being sworn in for a second term as Nassau County Executive. With no Bible present at the event -- held at a high school -- Mangano took his oath over an iPad that was open to a Bible app.

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