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They Swore on the Bible: What an Oath Means

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[On Friday here I posted a piece outlining an argument that if it is picked up and wielded by enough Americans-- could be a powerful lever to move the Congress toward dealing with this lawless Bush regime. The core of this tool is the idea that members of Congress have taken an oath to defend the Constitution but, despite the Constitution now being under unprecedented assault, are failing to honor this solemn commitment. In this installment, I elaborate on the point that gives this argument its power: TAKING AN OATH --ACCORDING TO OUR CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, AND RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS-- IS A VERY, VERY SERIOUS MATTER. IT IS AS SERIOUS A PROMISE AND AS SACRED AND UNQUALIFIED A COMMITMENT AS IT IS POSSIBLE IN OUR CIVILIZATION TO MAKE.]


A promise is always an important thing. But an oath is not just an ordinary promise. An oath is a promise made in such a way as to accentuate its importance, and to make it binding, as much as is possible to do.

An oath has been defined thus:

"Invocation of a supernatural or holy being called to verify the veracity of a statement... An oath was a special appeal, an expression of sincerity backed up by the threat of divine retribution should the uttering prove false--hence the term 'oath-breaker '. An oathbreaker was assumed to have committed a crime against God or of some divine entity, which would lead to damnation or another form of severe penalty."


A connection is explicitly made between the promise (relating to earthly matters) and the sacred realm. The promise is thus made a sacred thing. The result is that nothing can legitimately overrule the promise. It is stated in an unequivocal way-- unequivocal, literally, in that there is no other "voice" that can equal, let alone supplant, the voice of the promise.

Historically, the taker of the oath consents to the severest of judgments should he violate that oath: "a crime against God...which would lead to damnation or another form of severe penalty."
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That is a part of the background for the "oath of office" which every member of the United States Congress takes.


And of the oath of office, it is said:

"Oaths of office are usually a statement of loyalty to a constitution or other legal text, as well as an oath to the state or religion the office holder will be serving. It is often considered a treasonous or highly illegal offense to betray one's oath of office."

"A treasonous or highly illegal offense..." Taking this oath is supposed to be no small thing.
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And so, just what is it that Members of Congress promise that they will do? Here's what they swear:

'"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."'


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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