Blinken and ‘Blinkered’: Two Oath-of-Office Stories Embody a Divided America

Incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes oath of office on the US Constitution (left), while Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene rants about Muslim representatives who took the oath of office on a Quran (right).

America continues to divide and migrate toward opposing poles, one in which democratic government is a value and the other in which it’s a barrier to power. Christian nationalism, contributes to this division. The dichotomy floated across my digital timeline recently. I saw, in quick succession, a sober image of a new cabinet official taking the oath of office on the Constitution, followed immediately by a U.S. Representative ranting in a selfie-video about how oaths of office must be sworn on the Bible.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took his oath of office on a copy of the U.S. Constitution on January 27 and Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath. That’s remarkable twice over: first, because Harris’s vice presidency is historic on so many levels, and second, because most officials opt—some by default, some from personal piety—to place their hand on a Bible when taking an oath of office. Those who use a different book are newsworthy; some presidents have used other books and documents, as have some Senators and Representatives.

Whatever one swears on is virtually meaningless relative to what that oath promises to protect. Who could forget Rep. Jamie Raskin’s immortal retort when testifying against a proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution in 2006? Senator Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, asked “Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?” To which he replied, “Senator, with all due respect, when you took your oath of office, you put your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” 

At the time, Raskin was a constitutional law professor. Now, he’s a United States Representative leading an impeachment trial against a former president who incited his followers to insurrection and a violent attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election. One of those followers is also a colleague of Rep. Raskin in the House, though not in his league. Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has been in the House for less than a month and may be on her way out. She provided the second image of our divided America. 

It was recently reported that Greene, a supporter of the baseless QAnon conspiracy, had posted to social media calls for violence against other elected officials. In fact, one of her colleagues, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), even announced today that she would be moving her office further from Greene’s due to safety concerns. Greene’s extreme positions and overwrought vanity—she is constantly filming herself—led CNN’s Em Steck and Andrew Kaczynski to rediscover her conspiracy-driven videos and social media posts, helping fuel calls for her expulsion from Congress. The second image in my diptych of division was a video of her leading a group through congressional office buildings ranting about how Reps. Tlaib and Omar are “not really official” because they did not swear in with a hand on Greene’s chosen holy book.  

“they swore in on the Quran. Oh, we have the Bible. We’re going to talk about how to swear an oath on the Bible with them and let them know what our law says, that you can’t swear in on the Quran. So, we’re going to explain that. We’re going to explain about how you can’t swear in on the Quran. We’re going to have the Bible and ask them if they would swear in on the Bible … We have the oath. …I think that’s important” 

When someone in her group suggested that a new law legalized Tlaib and Omar’s oath, “the sad thing is that now you can swear in [on a Quran], which they should not be able to,” Greene replies with lies:

“But when they swore in, it wasn’t a law yet. Right? At the time they swore in. I think at the time they swore in it wasn’t passed, because it wouldn’t have been passed in a Republican-controlled. Yeah, so it was passed after they swore in so they’re not really official, I don’t think.” 

Of course, no law requires anyone to take an oath with a hand on a Bible. In fact, the Constitution itself actually prohibits such a requirement: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” But this kind of disinformation and the arrogance with which it’s preached is a cornerstone of Christian nationalism. On January 6, we reaped some of the fruit of an ideology based on that disinformation.

A new analysis by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, for which I serve as Director of Strategic Response, of the 147 members of Congress who refused to certify the electoral college results shows that nearly all the members had strong Christian nationalist ties: 98 percent of the 147 were Christian, compared to 88 percent of Congress. Christian and Christian nationalist are not the same thing, but FFRF’s analysis makes a convincing case that most of the 147 fall into the latter category, including Greene. 

Greene’s Christian Nationalism is obvious in that oath video to the very end. One of her fellows says, “The bottom line is that sharia law is not compatible with America.” Greene readily agrees, “Yup, that’s the bottom line.” That is the essence of Christian Nationalism: our holy book and our religion is the law of the land, not the book or religion of non-white, non-Christians. Neither is true. In America, our godless Constitution, which separates state and church partly as a way to guarantee genuine religious liberty for all, is the law of the land—not a holy book.  

Christian Nationalism is a deliberate repudiation of this founding American principle (and many others). Green and her ilk are as ignorant of law and history, as they are breathtakingly arrogant. The entire Christian Nationalist identity is built on myth and disinformation. That is its weakness. If we are going to disarm the Christian Nationalism threat and begin to unite this country, we must exploit that weakness with the truth.