Q&A on the News

Q: Does the presidential oath of office have to be sworn using the Bible? For example, if Mitt Romney had won the election, would he have been allowed to take the oath with his hand on the Book of Mormon had he wished to do so?

—E. Ann Richardson, Lithonia

A: Using a Bible while taking the presidential oath of office isn’t a law. It’s a tradition started by George Washington, according to Constitutional scholars. President Barack Obama didn’t use a Bible at his second swearing-in ceremony in 2009, which was taken one day after Chief Justice John Roberts said a word out of sequence in the public ceremony during his first inauguration. Several presidents haven’t used a Bible, including John Quincy Adams, who used a book of law in 1825. Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a book of any kind during his 1901 swearing-in after President William McKinley was assassinated, according to the Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol. Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office with a Roman Catholic missal, a liturgical book, but only because it was mistaken to be a Bible after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Jana Riess, a religion scholar and co-author of “Mormonism for Dummies,” told CNN.com before the election that she didn’t think Romney would have used the Book of Mormon to take the oath of office. Romney used a Bible when he was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts in 2003, reportedly the same one his father George used when he was sworn in as Michigan’s governor in 1963.

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X